Meet Suresh Kuchipudi

New IDM Chair Arrives July 1

In the waning days of 2019, a novel pathogen called SARS-CoV-2 most likely crossed species from animals to humans and delivered a 21st century reminder—needed or not—that the war between man and microbes is not over.

It’s a fight that Suresh Kuchipudi, PhD, MVSc, MBA, incoming chair of the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, has waged throughout his career, which began more than 30 years ago with veterinary science and animal husbandry studies in his home country of India. He joins Pitt from the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Pennsylvania State University, where he is currently Dorothy Foehr Huck and J. Lloyd Huck Professor of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

“One of the major interests of my research has been understanding interspecies transmission—how and why the bugs that cause epidemics and pandemics in humans originate,” says Kuchipudi. “This is really a central question in our ability to better prepare for similar future threats.”

Following education in India, Kuchipudi moved to the United Kingdom, where he completed a PhD at the University of Glasgow and joined the University of Nottingham faculty to primarily study influenza viruses. In 2015, he moved again—this time to Penn State.

“My research has expanded to addressing endemic and emerging pathogens--particularly several RNA viruses, including, coronaviruses,” he says. “When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, my group recognized the unprecedented challenge and the need to answer some basic biological questions.”

Since the outset of COVID-19, Kuchipudi’s team tackled projects to determine public health implications as SARS-CoV-2 evolves in animals as well as humans. SARS-CoV-2 has been found capable of infecting several nonhuman animal hosts, and Kuchipudi's team discovered widespread natural SARS-CoV-2 infection of white-tail deer populations in the U.S. “When a virus gets into more than one host, it changes in unpredictable ways,” he says.

Related research in the Kuchipudi lab focused on developing new diagnostic tests, as well as second-generation vaccines for COVID-19. With this combination of expertise, it’s no surprise he leapt at an opportunity to join the Pitt faculty.

“I was really excited because there is a strong history of excellence and outstanding research at the School of Public Health—and, in particular, the IDM department—where groundbreaking work addressed some of our most devastating diseases like polio and HIV,” he says. “I’m also looking forward to working with the Center for Vaccine Research and the wider microbiology and public health community in Pittsburgh.”

Pitt researchers and clinicians have shown they can meet threats from COVID-19 and other emerging diseases and develop new tools to conquer those threats, Kuchipudi adds.

“I believe strongly that now is the time to reimagine how we approach the study of infectious diseases,” he continues, pointing to the vast potential of engineering, computer science, artificial intelligence, machine learning and related technologies to drive a multidisciplinary culture of research at Pitt Public Health and its collaborators at home and abroad.

“I’m delighted and grateful for this opportunity and thankful to the school, management, staff, students and faculty of the department for trusting me with this responsibility,” Kuchipudi says.

As for the move west from Nittany Lion country, we can only say this: the American Puma concolor goes by many names—cougar, puma, catamount, mountain lion, and panther—but, frankly, they’re all the same cat.

-Michele Baum