Wael Elhenawy

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry - Medical Microbiology and Immunology Dept


Assistant Professor, Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry - Medical Microbiology and Immunology Dept


Area of Study / Keywords

Crohn’s disease Microbiome Antibiotic resistance


I have joined the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology as an assistant professor in 2021. I received my PhD degree in the laboratory of Dr. Mario Feldman. My PhD work focused on identifying the mechanisms of enzyme secretion by Bacteroides spp., the prominent members of the gut microbiome. During my postdoctoral training with Dr. Brian Coombes at McMaster University, I used animal models and genomics to study how some members of the microbiome can drive inflammatory bowel diseases, particularly Crohn’s disease. To further investigate the pathogenic potential of the microbiome during Crohn’s disease, I started my laboratory with the support of the Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology, the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, and the Li Ka Ching Institute of Virology.

Graduate and undergraduate student positions are available. If you are interested in joining my lab, please email a copy of your CV and transcript to elhenawy@ualberta.ca


My research focuses on studying the perpetually complex interactions between gut bacteria and the host, and how this intricate ecological network affects human health. My primary research interest is to understand the molecular mechanisms that drive the pathogenesis of bacteria during Crohn’s disease (CD). My work focuses on using animal infection models and genomics to identify the components of bacterial virulence in the CD environment. The aim of this research is to unravel the genetic elements that allow CD-associated bacteria to propel inflammation, and evade antimicrobial therapy.


The first area of research involves studying the evolution of pathobionts in the gut. Pathobionts are potentially pathogenic members of the gut microbiome that are innocuous to the host under normal physiological conditions, yet manifest their virulence upon the disruption of gut homeostasis. Our approach integrates metagenomics, bioinformatics and biochemistry to track the evolution of pathobionts in the gut environment and characterize their pro-inflammatory functions.


The second area of research involves understanding the role of Type IV Secretion System (T4SS) in mediating the pathogenesis of CD-associated bacteria. The multifaceted roles of T4SS in bacterial pathogenesis, include DNA transfer, and biofilm formation. Biofilms are aggregates of bacteria encased in a matrix of exopolysaccharides that confer protection against antibiotics and immune cells. Using their T4SS, CD-associated bacteria can persist longer in the gut environment and evade the immune system. Our laboratory is interested in uncovering the mechanisms that allow biofilm-embedded bacteria to avoid killing by the immune cells. 


My proposed research program will provide significant new information about the molecular and cellular basis of CD pathogenesis, and will begin to explore how the unique interactions between host components and bacterial virulence factors manifest in disease. This represents an important and exciting new area of research with the ultimate goal of identifying new antimicrobial therapies for Crohn's disease.

Featured Publications

Elhenawy W., Hordienko S., Gould S., Oberc A.M., Tsai C.N., Hubbard T.P., Waldor M.K., Coombes B.K.

Nature Communications. 2021 December; 12 (1) 10.1038/s41467-021-22306-w

Shaler C.R., Parco A.A., Elhenawy W., Dourka J., Jury J., Verdu E.F., Coombes B.K.

Nature Communications. 2021 December; 12 (1) 10.1038/s41467-021-26992-4

Chau N.Y.E., Pérez-Morales D., Elhenawy W., Bustamante V.H., Zhang Y.E., Coombes B.K.

Infection and Immunity. 2021 February; 89 (2) 10.1128/IAI.00639-20