Tom Kawula

Tom Kawula

Director, Graduate EducationProfessor & Dept Director 509-335-1301    

Dr. Kawula is an infectious disease microbiologist with research programs focusing on how intracellular bacterial pathogens evade host defenses and survive and thrive in hostile animal host environments. After obtaining a BS in Bacteriology in 1980 he completed a MS degree in 1982 at the University of Idaho where he was the first person to develop methodologies for genetically manipulating a fungus that was used to combat pea leaf weevil infestations. He then entered the Microbiology and Immunology doctoral program at the University of North Carolina. His doctoral research focused on how Neisseria meningitides (the bacteria that causes rapidly progressing fatal meningitis) evades detection by the host immune system. After obtaining his Ph.D. Dr. Kawula continued his scientific training in genetics and molecular biology at North Carolina State University. He assumed his first faculty position at Cornell University, College of Veterinary Medicine. He returned to the University of North Carolina in 1992 where he expanded his infectious disease research program and became deeply involved in interdisciplinary graduate training and in educating medical students. While at UNC Dr. Kawula served as director of the Microbiology and Immunology graduate program which averaged over 50 doctoral students per year, he was appointed to the Graduate School Board Advisory Board, and for 3 years he served as one of the founding Directors of a privately funded, institution wide interdisciplinary doctoral student society. After 24 years at UNC Washington State University presented Dr. Kawula with the opportunity to lead the Paul G. Allen School for Global Health. The opportunities and challenges of this position encompassed everything that Dr. Kawula cherishes; building and supporting interdisciplinary international training programs, mentoring young scientists, conducting infectious disease research, and getting to do all of these activities at a world class institution.

Affiliate and Adjunct Appointments

  • Affiliate, School of Molecular Biosciences


  • PhD, Microbiology and Immunology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, 1987
  • MS, Bacteriology and Biochemistry, University of Idaho, 1982
  • BS, Bacteriology and Biochemistry, University of Idaho, 1980

Research Interest

  • Our lab studies mechanisms by which zoonotic intracellular bacterial pathogens survive and thrive within host cells. We are specifically interested in understanding how these pathogens manipulate host cells to establish a hospitable environment that supports bacterial growth. Addressing these questions requires that we work with and understand many approaches and disciplines including microbial genetics, immunology cell biology and physiology.We are also currently working to develop alternatives to antibiotics for treating bacterial infections. Specifically we are studying small molecules that inhibit intracellular pathogen growth by enhancing innate host antimicrobial responses, as well as molecules that inhibit host cell processes that transiently support bacterial intracellular growth. Pathogens are far less likely to develop resistance to such treatments. Also, treatments such as these target specific pathogens without impacting healthy microorganisms.


Honors and Awards

  • American Academy for the Advancement of Science Fellow, 2022
  • Washington State Academy of Science Member, 2019
  • Deans Faculty Leadership Initiative, 2009
  • Departmental Award for Teaching Excellence, 2001
  • John E. Fogarty Senior International Fellowship Award, 2000
  • Kenan Faculty Research Scholar, 2000