O’Toole Receives Prestigious NIH MERIT Award

Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth microbiologist George O’Toole has received a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health that will provide up to 10 years of funding for his research on bacterial biofilms.

MERIT (Method to Extend Research in Time) grants are awarded by the NIH to researchers whose work has already yielded significant results and who it believes will continue to make progress toward understanding important questions in biomedical research.

The program is intended to allow accomplished researchers more freedom and flexibility in their work, and O’Toole is excited about the long-term nature of the award. “It’s not often that you are given such a large window of time,” he says. “I think it’s really going to allow us to take a little more risk.”

O’Toole’s research focuses on biofilms. These communities of bacteria are surprisingly complex, and they are implicated in a number of health problems, from cystic fibrosis to life-threatening infections. Many medications that are effective against individual bacteria cells are rendered almost useless against bacteria in biofilms.

O’Toole has made important contributions to the understanding of how biofilms form and why they are so resistant to treatment. With the help of the grant, he says, he hopes to make further progress in investigating the step-by-step process by which bacteria become part of biofilms, potentially leading to improved methods of eradicating them.

“We can ask some really interesting questions,” O’Toole says. “I’m flattered and excited for the opportunity to work on a project for close to a decade at a time when funding for biomedical research is tight.”

Other Geisel faculty members who have received MERIT awards include Charles Barlowe, Constance Brinckerhoff, Ta-Yuan Chang, Duane Compton, Jay Dunlap, Eugene Nattie, Randy Noelle, Ronald Taylor, Bernard Trumpower, William Wickner, and Charles Wira.