LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A five-year $1.7 million grant has been awarded to a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researcher who is studying the pathogenesis of pulmonary infections.

That grant comes from The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

The UAMS laboratory run by Roger Pechous, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is specifically interested in Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague and one of the deadliest pathogens known to man.

Pechous was initially awarded $249,635 to enable him to gather data to justify the research, and that preliminary work prompted the NIH to recently upgrade the grant by providing an additional $1,496,382 to continue the research through 2026.

“I’m interested in understanding the progression of severe pneumonia, and this type of pneumonia is as severe as it gets,” Pechous said.

Specifically, he’s interested in the bacteria that caused the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death of the Middle Ages, and two other types of plague, including pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs. His lab studies how, once a pathogen enters the lung, it can cause an infection and avoid being killed by a person’s immune system.

The goal of his work is to figure out how a person’s immune system stifles the invader once it gets in, and why in the case of some microbes this does not occur.