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Asma Hatoum-Aslan, new microbiology professor, named Burroughs Wellcome Fund Investigator

Asma Hatoum-Aslan, assistant professor of microbiology

Congratulations to University of Illinois professor Asma Hatoum-Aslan, who was recently named a 2020 Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Disease by the Burroughs Wellcome Fund.

Hatoum-Aslan is a new assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology in the School of Molecular and Cellular Biology. She officially joined the university on August 16.

The Burroughs Wellcome Fund provides financial support to accomplished investigators at the assistant professor level to study pathogenesis, with a focus on the interplay between human and microbial biology, shedding light on how human and microbial systems are affected by their encounters. Hatoum-Aslan was one of nine scientists chosen for the prestigious award.

“I feel extremely honored to have been selected alongside such a talented group of scientists,” Hatoum-Aslan said. “This could not have been possible without my amazing students. Their hard work and dedication is what propels our research forward.”

Research in the Hatoum-Aslan lab seeks to gain a mechanistic understanding of the perpetual arms race at the molecular level between bacteria and the viruses that infect them. Bacterial viruses, also known as phages, are major causes of bacterial mortality, and key drivers of bacterial evolution and pathogenesis. Using a model host-virus system (Staphylococcus epidermidis and its phages), recent research in the Hatoum-Aslan lab has revealed new mechanisms of the CRISPR-Cas10 immune pathway, and discovered a novel anti-phage defense system conserved in diverse bacteria.

“This award will allow us to pursue a new thread that might be critical to the theme that has emerged in our research over the years which seeks to understand how these and other anti-phage immune systems impact staphylococcal pathogenesis,” she said.

Ultimately, her team aims to leverage basic insights into bacterial immunity and the phages themselves to enable the development of alternative treatments for antibiotic-resistant infections.

Hatoum-Aslan received her PhD in biochemistry from Cornell University and completed her postdoctoral training at the Rockefeller University. Her research has been funded by the NIH, as well as an NSF CAREER award.

Founded in 1955, the Burroughs Wellcome Fund is a private foundation dedicated to promoting education and research in the biomedical sciences. According to the foundation, the goal of the program is to provide opportunities for accomplished investigators still early in their careers to study what happens at the points where the systems of humans and potentially infectious agents connect.

August 31, 2020 All News