Media Release: Kathryn Holt selected by Philanthropies as an International Research Scholar

9 May 2017 

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has teamed up with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to develop scientific talent around the world, and will award a total of nearly $26.7 million to this group of scholars.

Associate Professor Kathryn Holt, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Melbourne is one of the 41 early career researchers chosen by the philanthropies as an International Research Scholar.

As one of the scholars, Kathryn will receive a total of $650,000 over five years.

“It is wonderful to see philanthropies combining resources to support early career researchers around the world and particularly to tackle these large-scale problems affecting both developed and developing countries,” says Dr Holt.

The award is a big boon for scientists early in their careers, and offers the freedom to pursue new research directions and creative projects that could develop into top-notch scientific programs.

“This is an outstanding group of scientists who will push biomedical research forward worldwide, and we are thrilled to support them alongside our philanthropic partners,” said David Clapham, HHMI’s Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer.

Kathryn Holt, PhD, based at the University of Melbourne uses genomic tools to study infectious disease-causing microbes important in global health, including Salmonella typhi, which causes typhoid fever, and Shigella sonnei, a bacterium responsible for dysentery. She wants to understand what makes pathogens emerge, and why some become resistant to antimicrobial drugs.

“We isolate bacteria from people then use DNA sequencing or - ’fingerprinting’ - to see how the bacteria are spreading and changing in time and space. We use these genomic approaches to understand how the bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics and how they spread from person to person and across the world,” says Holt.

“Our recent work has shown that a lot of high level drug resistance in typhoid and dysentery is emerging in India and then spreading across Asia and into Africa.”

The funding will also support Kathryn’s research into hospital-acquired infections caused by Klebsiella pneumoniae. Klebsiella is at the top of the WHO global priority list for antimicrobial resistant bacteria. 1 in 10 patients in Australian hospitals will develop an infection during their stay. One of the common causes of such infections is Klebsiella, which is responsible for post-operative infections and pneumonia acquired in hospital.

“Resistance to new drugs often appears first in Klebsiella, before spreading to other bacteria. So, Klebsiella is like a ‘canary in the coalmine’ for resistance arising in other pathogens,” explains Holt.

“We are already seeing Klebsiella strains for which none of the available drugs are working. If untreated, Klebsiella infections can progress into sepsis which is often fatal. Exposure and selection from our use of antibiotics is driving this resistance.”

Holt’s research may inform how we can use the drugs we have left more intelligently, to prevent further development of resistance to last-line antibiotics.

“This grant will build on important foundational research to delve more deeply into the understanding of Klebsiella, which will inform the management of this pathogen in hospitals across the world,” she says.

“It will also help us to inform public health surveillance that will allow countries to improve local management of typhoid and dysentery.” 


The scientists selected as International Research Scholars represent a diverse array of scientific disciplines and geographic locations. Scholars hail from research organizations and institutions from across the world, from Tanzania to Cambodia, Chile and Austria. Their research covers a broad variety of biological and medical research areas too, including neuroscience, genetics, biophysics, computational biology, and parasitology

"We are excited to join with our partners in supporting these superb scientists. We look to them to bring transformative innovation to priority global health problems," said Chris Karp, Director of Global Health Discovery &Translational Sciences at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

These researchers’ goals are innovative, wide-ranging, and forward-thinking. They seek to understand diverse topics, from how immune cells function to how pathogenic bacteria jump from the environment to humans, and are even investigating ways to watch genes switch on and off in living brains.

"We are delighted to be a partner in supporting this outstanding community of international researchers. Their expertise and thirst for knowledge will enhance our understanding of how life works and the causes and consequences of disease, said Anne-Marie Coriat, Head of Research Careers at Wellcome Trust. 

A panel of distinguished scientists reviewed more than 1,400 applications, and evaluated both the impact of past work, including doctoral and postdoctoral achievements, and the promise of work to come. It’s a researcher-focused approach that emphasizes the skills and talents of the individual, rather than solely the projects proposed.

“We are proud to partner with HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust to support this truly exceptional group of young biomedical scientists. Biomedical research is increasingly at the core of the work of our research institute, the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência,” said Gulbenkian Institute Director Jonathan Howard.

Follow the link for the full list of recipients.

HHMI, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation announced the 2017 International Research Scholar competition March 29, 2016. The competition was open to early-career scientists who held a full-time position at a research-oriented  university, medical school, or nonprofit institution, and had been running their own labs for less than seven years. Candidates also had to work in an eligible country, and have received training in the United States or the United Kingdom for at least one year.  

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute plays a powerful role in advancing scientific research and education. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance both human health and our fundamental understanding of biology. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. HHMI is headquartered in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people - especially those with the fewest resources – have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. 

The Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust is a global charitable foundation dedicated to improving health. We support bright minds in science, the humanities and the social sciences, as well as education, public engagement and the application of research to medicine. Our investment portfolio gives us the

independence to support such transformative work as the sequencing and understanding of the human genome, research that established front-line drugs for malaria, and Wellcome Collection, our free venue for the incurably curious that explores medicine, life and art. 

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

The Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation is an international foundation that bears the name of businessman, art collector and philanthropist of Armenian origin, Calouste Sarkis Gulbenkian (1869-1955). For almost 60 years, the Foundation has been carrying out extensive activities both in Portugal and abroad through the development of in-house projects -- or in partnership with other institutions -- and by awarding scholarships and grants. Headquartered in Lisbon, where Calouste Gulbenkian spent his last years, the Foundation is also home to a scientific investigation centre in Oeiras, and runs delegations in Paris and London -- cities where Calouste Gulbenkian lived.

HHMI Release here.

Contact: //kholt [at]">Kathryn Holt (Kathryn Holt is currently travelling, but an interview can be arranged by email.)