The Microbes in Health and Disease Training Program is a renewal of the NIH-funded T32 training program previously titled “Microbial Pathogenesis and Host Responses Training Program”. As part of the renewal, the program’s scientific emphasis has expanded to include both the beneficial and harmful role of microbes; hence, the change of name. This change reflects new insights in microbiology regarding the host microbiome that are underscored in the NIH Roadmap, and new faculty recruited to our campus who are leaders in research on the beneficial role of microbes. These faculty members join existing trainers on this grant to provide our program with this fresh scientific dimension. In addition to the expanded scientific emphasis, the types of students trained in this program has also grown to include postdoctoral trainees (MD, PhD or MD/PhD). This change capitalizes on new campus resources that expand the opportunities for training. A new Microbial Sciences Building (MSB) offers a space that knits together campus microbial sciences with clinical infectious diseases and offers a cohesive training environment for both predoctoral and postdoctoral trainees, including physician-scientists.

The Role of Microbes in Health and Disease

Humans have evolved to live with microbes: to defend against those that harm us, and maintain those that are beneficial. Microbes too have evolved diverse metabolic activities that allow them to thrive in a wide variety of habitats and in association with all living creatures. The result of this coordinated evolution is a spectacular diversity of interactions between microbes and the world, and a diversity of ways in which microbes affect our lives. Our expanded program is designed to train students and postdoctoral fellows in the use of cutting-edge tools to investigate the microbe-animal interface and microbe contributions to human health and disease.

Infectious diseases are a leading cause of human mortality worldwide and a major cause of death in the United States. Their significance is increasing due to:

  • The emergence of newly identified pathogens and reemergence of known pathogens.

  • The increasing population of immune-compromised patients with to HIV /AIDS, organ transplantation, cancer and cancer therapy, hospitalization and intensive care, and aging.

  • Microbial development of antibiotic resistance.

  • The risks that are related to mass processing and distribution of foods.

  • New infectious or immunological etiologies for cardiovascular, neurological, and gastrointestinal diseases and cancer.

  • Demonstrated or potential bioterrorism and biowarfare.

In view of the public health significance of infectious disease, there is a significant societal need for the training of a new generation of pre- and post-doctoral scientists in basic mechanisms of microbial pathogenesis and host response. UW-Madison has great investigator expertise and depth in these areas. The 32 faculty trainers on this proposal include faculty with long-standing research and NIH or equivalent funding for programs in microbiology and infectious diseases.

The role of microbes in disease is well known, but recently has there been increasing awareness that beneficial or neutral microbes can profoundly affect health through their influence on host development, nutrition, and immunity. To understand how microbes cause disease, scientists now recognize that we must elucidate how long-term benign or beneficial interactions between microbes and hosts are maintained, and how they affect host immunity and development. For example, the intestinal flora can regulate immunity in the lung and dictate an asthmatic response to mold. Thus, to prevent or treat disease, we need to study a microbial pathogen in the context of its microbial community, rather than in isolation.

The synergy of research in the faculty trainer community has spurred our vision of this training grant as “Microbes in Health and Disease” in which we will train researchers to investigate the mechanisms of the microbial-host interface, and use the knowledge gained to combat disease and promote health.

The complexity of the human microbiome is dramatic: the intestine alone is thought to harbor over 1000 species of bacteria. Moreover, studies of model systems have revealed that animal intestinal microbes contribute to host development, nutrition and obesity, physiology, morphology and immunity. The mechanisms underlying these effects remain obscure and are the subject of research of several MHD trainers.