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Brian Coombes

Brian  Coombes

Canada Research Chair in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis

Tier 2: 2011-10-01, Renewed: 2016-02-01


Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences Profile | Canada Research Chair Profile

Research involves

Understanding the genetic bases of foodborne infections, and the links to chronic immune diseases in humans.

Research relevance

This research will uncover the mechanisms used by bacteria to infect humans, and will lead to new approaches to treat infections and prevent outbreaks. 

When Human and Bacterial Genes Collide

Just as humans inherit certain traits, bacteria inherit genetic information from their ancestors. This genetic information specifies such factors as how the bacteria will interact with their surroundings, and their resistance to antibiotics. At the same time, our human immune system has evolved to combat bacterial invaders by attacking bacteria where they like to live—in our cells and tissues. This cellular warfare can give rise to diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, which affects one in every 160 Canadians.

Dr. Brian Coombes, Canada Research Chair in Infectious Disease Pathogenesis, is exploring the genetics and molecular development of human and animal infectious diseases, focusing on where pathogenic bacteria meet the host's defense system. 

He is focusing on why some people are more susceptible to food-borne infections from intestinal pathogens like Salmonella and E. coli, and on how these pathogens can lead to increased risk for developing of chronic gastrointestinal disorders. Since many of these pathogens are transmitted through water, vegetables and domesticated animals, his research could have major public health repercussions. 

Coombes has already found that certain types of E. coli that are linked to inflammatory bowel disease contain unique genetic material. This genetic material may allow these bacteria to colonize the gastrointestinal tract and evade the body’s immune system.

Coombes’ research on bacterial development mechanisms will increase understanding of how these bacteria contribute to chronic diseases. It could also lead to ways in which to limit our exposure to them by eradicating harmful bacteria from our food and water.