Yousef Abu Kwaik
Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology, U of L Health Sciences Center
Dr. Yousef Abu Kwaik is a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. His research focuses on the cellular biology of emerging diseases, particularly Legionnaires disease and Tularemia. He is interested in discovering the ways in which the bacteria changes the host cell biology as they grow and replicate – processes that eventually result in cell death.
His laboratory’s ultimate goal is to find ways to target these changes to find treatments for disease and develop vaccines. Abu Kwaik’s research is supported by the National Institutes of Health, which recently awarded him more than $2.3 million in support of his work on these diseases.
He presents regularly at national meetings and publishes regularly in the Journal of Experimental Medicine, Applied Environmental Microbiology, Infection and Immunity, Cellular Microbiology, and the International Journal of Medical Microbiology. He is editor-in-chief of the first book on tularemia, published in July 2007.
Abu Kwaik earned his Ph.D. at the State University of New York at Buffalo and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. Prior to joining U of L, he was an associate professor of microbiology and immunology at the University of Kentucky.
He is the editor of the first book published recently on Francisella. They are currently funded by large NIH grants for each of the two organisms we study.
Dr. Yousef Abu Kwaik research area is in Cellular Microbiology, which focuses on manipulation and exploitation of the host cell biology by the two intracellular bacterial pathogens, Legionella pneumophila and Francisella tularensis. Legionella pneumophila invades and replicates within macrophages in the lungs causing pneumonia designated Legionnaires disease. In the aquatic environment, L. pneumophila invades and replicates within amoebae, and this host-parasite interaction is central to bacterial ecology, transmission to human, and manifestation of disease. After entry into the mammalian or protozoan cells, the bacterium is enclosed in a vacuole that prevents fusion to the lysosomes, which are the organelles that degrade invading pathogens. Fusion of the bacterial vacuole to the degradative lysosomes is one of the first lines of our defense against infection. Our studies are focused on the molecular, genetic, and cellular aspects of the intracellular infection to identify bacterial virulence factors that can be used as targets for therapy and vaccination. I am an editor of a recent book on Legionella.
The other intracellular pathogen we study is Francisella tularensis, which is classified as an agent of bioterrorism that causes the fatal disease tularemia. This organism is extremely infectious and is transmitted by inhalation or by bites of an insect. Upon infection of humans, the bacteria invade and replicate within macrophages through avoidance of degradation within the lysosomes. Our studies are focused on two venues; first, understanding the infection of the insect and its role in efficient transmission to humans, through the use of fruit flies as a genetically amenable model system. The second is to understand the molecular, genetic, and cellular aspects of the intracellular infection to identify bacterial virulence factors that can be used as targets for therapy and vaccination.