Professor of Microbiology & Immunology, Professor of Otolarynology-Head and Neck Surgery, Drexel University College of MedicineBiography
Dr. Ehrlich is Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at Drexel University College of Medicine (DUCoM) in Philadelphia, PA, USA. He also directs: the Center for Genomic Sciences (CGS); the Center for Advanced Microbial Processing (CAMP); and the Center for Surgical Infections and Biofilms within the Institute for Molecular Medicine and Infectious Disease at DUCoM. In addition, he directs the Core Genomics Facility for the Drexel University as a whole. CGS scientists utilize a broad array of comparative genomic techniques and bioinformatic tools, many developed in-house, to identify and characterize both virulence genes within pathogens, and susceptibility genes to pathogens within their hosts. Dr Ehrlich is also one of the founders of the field of Clinical Molecular Diagnostics (MDx), having been involved in the original application of PCR for the detection of human retroviruses in 19851. He founded the MDx Division at UPMC and used these experiences to author the first textbook/lab manual for infectious disease (ID) MDx2. Together with a team of like-minded pioneers he was one of the founders of the Association for Molecular Pathology and served as the first co-chair of the ID section. Dr Ehrlich counts among his major contributions to science the mapping and cloning of several major human disease genes3,4, and the re-writing of much of our understanding of chronic bacterial pathogenesis5,6. The latter began with his promulgation of the biofilm paradigm to explain many facets of chronic mucosal microbial infections7-9. Working with Chris Post, he started his explorations into chronic middle-ear disease in children in the early 90's which he has since repeatedly generalized such that it is now widely accepted that the vast majority of all chronic microbial infections are biofilm-associated10,11. He also advanced the Distributed Genome Hypothesis (DGH12,13) to explain the enormous clinical variability among strains of a bacterial species, which together with the biofilm paradigm form the bases for his rubric of Bacterial Plurality6. His work in human genetics combined with the laboratory resources necessary to test the DGH have resulted in his having played a role in the development of several waves of genomic technology over the last quarter century including microsatellite mapping, microarrays, and next-generation sequencing. More recently he has developed the concept of bacterial population-level virulence factors and has for the first time within the field of bacterial genomics used statistical genetics and machine learning algorithms approaches to identify unannotated distributed genes that are associated with virulence. These computational methodologies provides a non-biased, top-down approach to prioritize the annotation of hypothetical genes14. Coincident with the recent relocation of his research enterprise to DUCOM he founded CAMP which functions as a collaborative multi-discipline facility for exploitation of a suite of technological advances, many developed within the CGS, which permit the identification, cloning, heterologous expression, and biochemical verification of commercially important biosynthetic and biodegradative pathways from what he refers to as the "Genomic Dark Matter". This approach came out his successful collaborative studies with Dr. David Sherman at the University of Michigan wherein they used multiple omics technologies (and developed the term meta-omics) to isolate and characterize all of the genes for a novel biosynthetic pathway for an important anti-cancer drug from an unculturable endosymbiotic bacterium of a tunicate15. Over the past several years Dr Ehrlich has overseen the development of a novel ultra-high-fidelity microbiome assay that provides quantitative, species-specific analyses of microbial consortia using whole-gene 16S amplification and sequencing on the Pacific Biosciences third generation long-read sequencing platform16. When combined with a state-of-the art bioinformatics pipeline that takes advantage of novel pathway- algorithms and a custom database, developed in-house, this system provides unprecedented accuracy. In collaboration with Dr Curtis Harris at the NCI, Dr Ehrlich and his team applied this high-fidelity microbiome assay to identify bacterial species-specific changes to the lung microbiome associated with a specific TP-53 mutation - providing the first microbial biomarker for cancer17. Dr Ehrlich's lifelong interest in emergent MDx and "omic" technologies led to his recent appointment as Director of the Meta-Omics Core Facility at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, a consortium NCI-designated Cancer Center involving Thomas Jefferson University and Drexel University. Dr Ehrlich's latest paradigm-changing hypothesis is that Alzheimer's disease results from a combination of chronic bacterial infections of the brain (primarily originating from the periodontium) and the brain's anti-microbial and inflammatory responses to these infections. Dr. Ehrlich was elected as fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2014 and has won numerous awards for his research and teaching.