Associate professor receives $1 million grant for disease research

Associate Professor Janelle Ayres is the recipient of a $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to study new ways to treat deadly infections including sepsis and the flu, both of which require novel therapies beyond antibiotics and antivirals to effectively combat.

"Humanity is engaged in an escalating arms race with superbugs," says Salk President Rusty Gage. "With antimicrobial resistance on the rise, Janelle's groundbreaking work offers a shining ray of hope that effective new solutions for fighting infectious diseases are on the horizon."

As a member of Salk's NOMIS Center for Immunobiology and Microbial Pathogenesis, Ayres works at the intersection of immunology, metabolism and microbiology, studying how our bodies stay healthy during infections. She takes an innovative approach grounded in mathematical and evolutionary predictions to understand how bacteria have evolved ways to promote our health. She uses these discoveries to develop new therapies for treating diseases.

Ayres' cutting-edge research on host-pathogen interactions is redefining health. In pivotal work, she discovered that microbes have evolved mechanisms to promote the health of the host to support their own survival, revealing a beneficial role for microbes in the maintenance of host health. Her revelation of an entirely new set of defense mechanisms may lead to novel therapies that bacteria won't be able to evolve resistance to (unlike antibiotics). Ultimately, by leveraging those damage-control mechanisms, Ayres aims to develop effective treatments for infectious and noninfectious diseases, such as pathologies associated with cancer and aging.

Ayres, who is the Helen McLoraine Developmental Chair at Salk and a Searle Scholar, is also the recipient of a 2018 Blavatnik National Award for Young Scientists, a DARPA Young Faculty award and a Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation Award, among other honors.

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