Yale scientist Nikhil S. Malvankar receives Hood Foundation Child Health Research Award

By Jon Atherton

Nikhil Malvankar, assistant professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale’s Microbial Sciences Institute, has received a Charles H. Hood Foundation Child Health Research Award for his project The Role of Charge Interactions in Pseudomonas aeruginosa infections in Cystic Fibrosis. Malvankar is one of five recipients to receive an award.

Bacteria-induced chronic pulmonary infection is a major cause of death in over 30,000 children affected by cystic fibrosis in the US. Bacteria strongly attach to lung cells via specialized protein filaments called “pili”, but currently there are no effective methods to selectively target bacterial pili to block infections.

The award will allow the Malvankar Lab to test new techniques for quantitative imaging of static and dynamic charges in pili to identify new targets for therapy. Using these new methods, they have found that pili of soil bacteria function as “molecular wires”, allowing bacteria to export electrons outside their body for respiration and energy sharing.

“I am thrilled to receive this award, which will allow us to study for the first time the role of electrical charges in bacterial infections,” said Malvankar. Project collaborators include Dr. Marie Egan, director of Yale Cystic Fibrosis Center, and Dr. Barbara Kazmierczk of the Department of Microbial Pathogenesis.

The Charles H. Hood Foundation, Inc., Boston, MA. supports newly independent faculty, and provides the opportunity to demonstrate creativity and assist in the transition to other sources of research funding. Recipients were selected on the basis of their hypothesis-driven clinical, basic science, public health, health services research with a direct relevance to child health.

The Foundation was established in 1942 to improve the health and quality of life for children through grant support of New England-based pediatric researchers. Since 1942, the Foundation has funded 597 Child Health Research Awards, providing over $63 million in research support.