Our laboratory primary research goals are directed toward understanding the complex interactions of infectious microorganisms with the immune system, as the balance in this interplay impacts whether host damage occurs.
We are interested in understanding three basic questions:
- Which mechanisms are used by microbes to invade, survive, and cause disease to the host?
- How does the host defend itself against infectious organisms?
- How do microbes adapt to environmental changes?
We approach our research in an interdisciplinary manner, students and post-doctoral fellows that join the lab will be trained on basic microbiology, microscopy, immunological and tissue culture techniques, molecular biology, antimicrobial research, and animal models of infection.
Current projects include:
Unraveling the Mechanisms of Fungal Brain Invasion. The encapsulated fungus Cryptococcus neoformans is the most common cause of fungal meningitis, with the highest rate of disease in patients with AIDS. This microbe has developed its virulence factors by interacting with other organisms in the environment. It enters into the human body via the respiratory tract and the infection is controlled in the lungs of people with normal immunity. When a person’s immune system is defective, C. neoformans moves into the bloodstream and the fungus disseminates with a particular propensity to infect the brain. We are interested in elucidating the mechanisms of central nervous system (CNS) invasion by C. neoformans and the interactions of the fungus with cells of the CNS including microglia, astrocytes, and neurons.
Impact of Methamphetamine on Bacterial Skin Infections. The prevalence of methamphetamine (METH) use is estimated at ∼35 million people worldwide, with over 10 million users in the United States. Heavy daily users of METH frequently develop formication, a sensation akin to insects crawling on or under the skin. The result of formication is that users engage in constant skin “picking,” often causing the formation of ulcers that are susceptible to bacterial infections. A marked lack of hygiene among users may also be correlated to higher rates of skin and soft-tissue infections (SSTI). Staphylococcus aureus is the single most important bacterial pathogen in infections among injection drug users, with SSTI being extremely common. Wounds and abscesses associated with METH users are an important care problem at respite centers and healthcare institutions. We are interested in dissecting the cellular and signaling mechanisms by which METH alters the host inflammatory responses and promotes S. aureus infection interfering with wound healing and abscess resolution, leading to chronic wounds that can progress to life-threatening sepsis.