James Bliska to Lead Dartmouth Cystic Fibrosis Research Cluster

James Bliska, PhD (photo by Rob Strong)

Noted molecular biologist James Bliska, PhD, is joining the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth as a Distinguished Professor in Microbiology and Immunology and senior lead faculty member of the Personalized Treatments for Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Cluster, a cross-Dartmouth group of investigators established to develop innovative, personalized medicine and treatments for CF and lung infections caused by opportunistic pathogens.

“I am very excited to have Dr. Bliska joining our faculty and leading the development of the Personalized Treatments for Cystic Fibrosis Cluster,” says Duane Compton, PhD, dean of Geisel. “I look forward to working with Dr. Bliska and Dr. Bruce Stanton, director of Geisel’s Lung Biology Center, in building an interdisciplinary team to develop a deeper understanding and more effective therapeutic strategies for disorders like CF, which involves a complex combination of genetic predisposition, epithelial cell biology, and pathogens.”

Bliska was formerly a professor of molecular genetics and microbiology at Stony Brook University where he directed both the Center for Infectious Diseases and the Molecular and Cell Biology of Infectious Disease Training Program for graduate students. He begins work in Hanover in January.

“I’m very excited to join Geisel and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology,” says Bliska. “The highly collaborative environment and excellent scientists in that department, and the leadership of Bill Green, are well-known to me and made this a great opportunity. The Lung Biology Center, headed by Bruce Stanton, is also a highly collaborative, interdisciplinary group of scientists working in the area that I’m interested in, and I’m thrilled to be a part of that, as well.”

Bliska’s research has been focused on understanding how bacterial toxins interact with the immune system to trigger pathogenesis or host protection. At Dartmouth, he will expand his research to investigate opportunistic bacterial pathogens that produce toxins and cause mucosal infections, such as those that occur in the lungs of CF patients.

“I think Jim’s impact here will be profound in two major ways,” says William Green, PhD, the Elmer R. Pfefferkorn Professor and chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Geisel. “The first is that he’s an excellent researcher with high-impact publications and a terrific track record of funding from the NIH as a principal investigator. Secondly, he will bring in expertise and knowledge that will leverage some of the great interdisciplinary work being done across Dartmouth—a ‘team science’ approach that is crucial to tackling complex disease processes like CF.”

"The goal will be to create a world-class research group that will study infections of the lung by opportunistic pathogens, especially in CF patients."

- James Bliska

Funded by a generous endowment from an anonymous donor, the Personalized Treatments for Cystic Fibrosis Cluster is one of 10 interdisciplinary academic groups formed as part of Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon’s goal of strengthening academic excellence at Dartmouth. The cluster initiative is aimed at extending Dartmouth’s impact on the world through interdisciplinary faculty teams who collaborate at the leading edge of discovery.

“The vision for the cluster is coming together and involves the hiring of two additional junior faculty,” says Bliska. “The goal will be to create a world-class research group that will study infections of the lung by opportunistic pathogens, especially in CF patients. We’re interested in understanding how the diseases occur and in developing therapeutics. It’s also conceivable that in the near future, it’s going to be possible to take advantage of cutting-edge genome editing techniques to correct the CF mutation in patients for the first time, and we’re hoping to be part of that.”

Bliska received a BS in bacteriology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1983. He completed his PhD in molecular biology from the University of California-Berkeley in 1988, and did his postdoctoral training in bacterial pathogenesis at Stanford University. In 1993, Bliska joined Stony Brook University as an assistant professor of molecular genetics and microbiology. He was appointed an associate professor with tenure in 1999, and professor in 2003. He has been actively involved in teaching graduate-level courses and scientific mentoring of undergraduates and high school students throughout his career.

Bliska was the recipient of a Pew Scholar Award in 1994. He also became a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology in 2012, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013, and received the Dean’s Award for Excellence in Graduate Mentoring at Stony Brook in 2015.

Born in Colorado and raised in Colorado and Minnesota, Bliska enjoys a variety of outdoor activities, such as skiing and hiking, with his wife Janice and his daughters Emma and Hanna, who are attending Middlebury College and Dartmouth College respectively.

About the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

Founded in 1797, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth strives to improve the lives of the communities it serves through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The Geisel School of Medicine is renowned for its leadership in medical education, health care policy and delivery science, biomedical research, global health, and in creating innovations that improve lives worldwide. As one of America’s leading medical schools, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of diverse leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in health care.