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Dennis Ko, M.D., Ph.D., Duke University Medical Center has won a 2014 Merck-ICAAC Young Investigator Award for his innovative and multidisciplinary research on the genetic basis for pathogen susceptibility in humans. Samuel Miller, University of Washington, describes Ko “as a uniquely qualified individual with the talent and ability to become a leader in biomedical science.”
In 1997, Ko received a B.S. from Cornell University and later he obtained a M.D. and Ph.D. from Stanford University where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Matthew Scott. Using a combination of biochemistry, cell biology, genetics, and animal models, he pioneered a new subject in the lab examining how genetic alterations lead to the neurodegenerative lipid disorder, Niemann-Pick type C (NPC).
As a post-doctoral Life Sciences Research Foundation fellow in the lab of Miller, Ko developed a novel screening method termed Hi-HOST (high throughput human in vitro susceptibility testing) for identifying human genetic variation that affects cell-based readouts of bacterial infection. Through this approach, he was able to discover unexpected cell biology involving Salmonella-induced cell death and identify genetic differences important for sepsis.
Ko joined the faculty of Duke Molecular Genetics & Microbiology, Medicine, and the Center for Human Genome Variation in 2012. In addition to studies of host variation to Salmonella, his laboratory has expanded the pathogens under study with Hi-HOST to other bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa. The long-term goal of the research is to fully understand human genetic variation for traits important for infection and inflammation that impact human disease.