Meet June Round, Ph.D., the Packard Fellowship Winner Who's Fighting Obesity With Bacteria

Most of us like to stay as far away from bacteria as possible, but for pathologist June Round, bacteria is what pays the bills. June L. Round Ph.D. is using her expertise to show the world that not all bacteria is bad, and she just got a little financial boost to fuel her mission.

Round is one of the sixteen 2013 recipients of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation's Science & Engineering Fellowship. Since 1988, Packard has been asking 50 universities to nominate early-career professors to receive $875,000 individual five-year grants. Round's specialty is pathology, but the other award recipients are emerging leaders in the field of chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, physics, and biology. (Read David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Bay Area Grants).

So what makes bacteria worth $875,000, you ask? Round promises to use her award to find ways to kill the harmful bacteria in our bodies (specifically, our guts) while leaving the beneficial bacteria in tact. So far, Round's research has shown that some types of bacteria protects the human body from inflammatory diseases and immune disorders.

But what about those antibiotic pills your doctor prescribes when you have the sniffles? Those pills don't know the difference between “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria, so they simply kill it all. "When this happens, we not only lose the beneficial effects of those organisms, but often the good bacteria can be replaced with bad ones that predispose to other diseases," Round said in a press release. "I'm going to use the Packard Foundation's generous award for a project to develop more specific ways to kill bad bacteria while allowing good bacteria to live. To do this we are going to exploit immune mechanisms our body uses to distinguish between good and bad organisms."

Simply put, Round will be using the money to experiment on mice. I'm not sure what the going rate is for a lab rat these days, but she should be able to buy a lot of them with that kind of cash. Back in June 2013, Round secured another $240,000 grant for being named the Pew Scholar in Biomedical Sciences.

One of the most practical applications of this is fighting the obesity epidemic. A research study was recently published in the journal Science, which made the connection between good bacteria in the gut, metabolism, and obesity. If diet and exercise aren't enough, it's clearly time to turn to science. Although its a round-about way to fight the fat, Round's work is promising and Packard's investment insight is impressive.