Leah E. Cowen

Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Infectious Disease

Tier 1 - 2017-11-01
University of Toronto
Canadian Institutes of Health Research


Research involves

Using advanced molecular genetics and genomic analyses to explore the underlying mechanisms of fungal infections and their increasing drug resistance.

Research relevance

This research will lead to new information to design and develop safe and effective treatments for infectious diseases.

A Genome-Wide Fight Against Infectious Disease

Fungi, the group of organisms we know as molds, yeasts and mushrooms, are found throughout the world and take a huge toll on human health. Billions of people acquire fungal infections, and every year, more than 1.5 million of them die.

As more and more people are living with compromised immune systems, the rate of fungal infections has also increased—by up to 200 per cent globally in recent years. With only three types of treatment available for fungal infections, and resistance to them rising, the need for new therapies has never been greater.

Dr. Leah Cowen, Canada Research Chair in Microbial Genomics and Infectious Disease, has developed an innovative research program to find these new treatments. Using pioneering technology that she engineered (for advanced genomic analyses, imaging, molecular genetics and more), she and her research team are exploring the mechanisms by which fungi cause infectious disease and become drug-resistant.

The information they uncover will form one of the largest resources in the world on functional genomics of fungal pathogens. This information will act like a map of the genetic networks that define the functional relationships underlying fungal infections. Cowen and her team will make use of this powerful genomic information base to discover and design critical new medicines for infectious diseases that are currently untreatable.

Cowen is pioneering the use of genome-scale analyses to identify the genes responsible for fungal infections and drug resistance. Her work will provide new biological insights that may lead to safe and effective treatments for millions of people around the world.