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SDDRC Pilot Feasibility Grants for 


2023–2024 Awardees

Digestive Diseases Innovative Awards ($40,000 each):

 The SDDRC has awarded pilot grants to promote innovative research in digestive diseases. This year's awardees are:

  • Thomas Riffelmacher, PhD

    Thomas Riffelmacher, PhD

    Instructor, Director of Immunometabolism Core, La Jolla Institute for Immunology

    About the Awardee: Dr. Riffelmacher received his B.Sc. and M.Sc. degrees from the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Germany, and then moved to the United Kingdom to obtain his Ph.D. with Professor Katja Simon at the University of Oxford. He is currently an instructor at La Jolla Institute for Immunology and the Director of the Immunometabolism Core Facility there. Dr. Riffelmacher's research is focused on how metabolic mechanisms operating in innate immune cells impact their effector functions in inflammatory disease.

    Project Title: "Targeting metabolic dependencies of MAIT cells in fatty liver disease"

    Summary: Metabolic syndrome and hepatic steatosis affects 30-40% of adults in the U.S and 1 in 5 progress to cirrhosis, a life-threatening condition. Mucosal-associated-invariant-T (MAIT) cells are an innate-like T cell subset that recognizes vitamin B metabolites and is highly enriched in liver (up to 40% of lymphocytes). We recently combined single cell (sc) RNA-seq with sc-metabolic analysis and identified an active, mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation metabolic program of MAIT cells was critical for IL-17A synthesis. The disturbed metabolic microenvironment present in steatotic liver likely shapes the functional state of MAIT cells and in turn impacts inflammation. My research will test if MAIT cell functional states may be uniquely tied to distinct metabolic programs impacted by metabolic dysbiosis, which could be exploited to tune innate-like T cell responses in the context of fatty liver disease.

  • Karsten Zengler, PhD

    Karsten Zengler, PhD

    Professor, Department of Pediatrics

    About the Awardee: Dr. Zengler's interest in training and research relates to microbiome sciences and the integration of multi-omics data to unravel microbial interactions with other members of the gut microbiota and the host. This knowledge will aid in the development of translational approaches to counter infection.

    Project Title: "Leveraging Microbial Competition to Fight Intestinal Multidrug-Resistant Infections"

    Summary: Infectious diseases and intestinal inflammation are on the rise, but drug development struggles to keep up with antimicrobial resistance. In addition to acute infection, colonization by multi-drug resistant Gram-negative pathogens poses a significant, often undetected, threat. Here, we will apply a new method that aims to identify natural competitors of emerging pathogens and enhance these competitors to combat inflammation and infectious diseases.