Entrepreneur of the Year

Robert Ernst large

Robert K. Ernst, PhD
School of Dentistry
Professor and vice chair, Department of Microbial Pathogenesis

Through cutting-edge research and entrepreneurship, Dr. Ernst is amoung the scientists leading the fight against sepsis, a blood-bourne bacterial infection that kills someone in this country every two minutes. Dr. Ernst studies the molecular basis by which bacteria modify the lipid component of thier membrane, and how these alterationsaffect normal host innate immune system responses, possibly resulting in septic shock.

In 2014, Dr. Ernst and his UMB colleague David Goodlett, PhD, professor in the School of Pharmacy, launched Pataigin (Irish for "pathogen"), a company aiming to commercialize technology that develops a "barcode" for each pathogen strain. A chemical analysis known as mass spectrometry would then identify the disease based on the barcode. 

The technology would allow clinicians to identify pathogens directly from tissues like blood, urine, and wounds, without the need for cell culture. Not only would it offer superior performance to current treatment options, it would save patients from potentially harsh therapies.

On another front in the sepsis fight, Dr. Ernst was awarded a five-year, $6.4 million contract last year from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop and test adjuvants that help vaccines protect against infection.

Honored as UMB's Researcher of the Year in 2017, he's regarded by colleagues inside and outside the University as an outstanding teacher, a prolific writer, and an original thinker who translates basic science into life-saving applications.