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Faculty Research Programs

Microscope in research lab

Dr. Eric Arts - HIV, molecular virology

Dr. Eric J Arts is Chair and Professor of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Western University which is also the same department where he received his BSc (Hon) in 1990.  His translational infectious disease research program started during his PhD degree in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University under the supervision of Dr. Mark Wainberg.  During his PhD and his subsequent post-doctoral studies at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland, Ohio, his research examined the molecular mechanisms of antiretroviral drugs and of HIV resistance to these drugs.  He joined the faculty in the Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, CWRU in1997 and started a new research program on HIV-1 pathogenesis and evolution in the global epidemic.  These studies involved setting up a new clinical and molecular virology laboratory in Kampala, Uganda as well as collaborations with HIV clinicians around the world.  His laboratory in Uganda processed and performed over 20,000 HIV RNA loads in plasma and CD4 T cell subset analyses, over 10,000 drug resistance tests, and maintains a sample repository on over 300 patients from a 10 year cohort study in Uganda and Zinbabwe.  Dr. Arts and his colleagues have developed new technologies to analyze HIV and HepCV drug resistance, tests which are now approved for clinical use in the US.  He is also involve in various preventative and therapeutic vaccine developments. Visit the Arts Lab website.

Dr. Stephen Barr - HIV, molecular virology

 E3 ligases are proteins that can alter the function of other proteins by tagging them with small proteins. We study two newly identified E3 ligases called TRIM22 and HERC5. TRIM22 and HERC5 are produced in high abundance during the interferon response and are capable of potently inhibiting various steps of the HIV life cycle. Our research will provide a deeper understanding of the human innate immune response towards HIV, which will in turn lead to novel approaches for antiviral therapeutics and personalized medicine for HIV-infected individuals. A second focus of the Barr laboratory is on better understanding one of the most fundamental cellular processes in biology, the development of sperm. Our research will provide insight about male infertility and the molecular mechanisms underlying proper development of sperm. Visit the Barr Lab website

Dr. Lillian Barra - autoimmunity

 The major research interest of Dr. Barra's laboratory is the role of autoantibodies in Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and its associated complications, in particular vascular disease. We aim to investigate the immune mechanisms contributing to the increased rate of cardiovascular disease in patients with RA. The research is translational involving mouse models of RA and atherosclerosis, biomaker studies as well as epidemiologic studies with participation in various cohort studies. We are currently accepting graduate students. Visit the Barra lab website

Dr. Jeremy Burton - probiotics

 We conduct research on the role of microbes in various human conditions. Our primary focus is the microbiome which influences urological conditions. The microbiome at distal sites is now the most intriguing, as it is thought to have an influence on systemic health well beyond the primary mucosal sites they occupy. Visit the Burton lab website

Dr. Ewa Cairns - autoimmunity, immunobiology of superantigens

 Our laboratory is interested in rheumatic autoimmune diseases. Specifically, our current research focuses on the pathogenesis of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA). We are studying the role of MHC class II molecules as well as auto-antigens (e.g.citrullinated proteins) in the development of this disease. Our research is performed using human RA clinical specimens and humanized (MHC class II) tg mice as animal model for RA. Visit the Cairns lab website

Dr. Lisa Cameron - inflammation, functional genetics, Th2 immunity, allergic disease

Ouw laboratory is focused on understanding how naturally occurring genetic variation influences development and trajectory of inflammatory disease. Her research relies on expertise in the areas of cellular and molecular immunology, functional genetics/genomics and translational science, including patient recruitment and clinical characterization. Dr. Cameron's work on CRTh2, a prostaglandin D 2 (PGD2) receptor expressed by Th2 cells, has shown that single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in CRTh2 are associated with increased frequency of allergic conditions including asthma due to elevated CRTh2 expression and function. Dr. Cameron is also studying the role of CRTh2 in severe asthma and whether environmental factors such as diet and viral infection may interact with CRTh2 and its variants to modulate disease susceptibility and symptoms.  Techniques used to perform this research include:  i) isolation and culture of primary human T cells, ii) flow cytometry, iii) molecular cloning, iv) reporter assays, v) EMSA and ChIP, vi) RNA/DNA isolation and qRT-PCR, vii) microarray analyses, viii) patient recruitment and database management/analysis. Visit the Cameron lab website

Dr. Carole Creuzenet - bacterial pathogenesis, sugars, enzymology, secretion

 We aim at identifying the role played by surface carbohydrates in the virulence of two genetically related gastro-intestinal human pathogens that cause very different and specific pathologies: Campylobacter jejuni and Helicobacter pylori. One hallmark of these two bacteria is to produce glycosylated proteins. We have made great progress in the elucidation of the N- and/or O-linked protein glycosylation pathways in these bacteria, and in the determination of their role in pathogenesis. We are now investigating the role of glycosylation on the function of select glycoproteins. Other significant research topics in the laboratory also include investigating the biosynthesis and role of C. jejuni capsular components, and investigating the use of lactobacilli as probiotics to treat/prevent H. pylori infections. Visit the Creuzenet lab website

Dr. Greg Dekaban - biotherapeutics, gene therapy, vaccines, HIV

Dr. Dekaban's research is focused on two areas: (1) Vaccine research is focused on developing novel vaccine vectors that carry immunomodulatory genes or utilize dendritic cell-based vaccines that result in prime-boost vaccine regimens that yield strong cell-mediated immune responses. This research is aimed at developing improved vaccines for HIV/AIDS and cancer. (2) Develop novel acute anti-inflammatory treatments for spinal cord injury based on understanding the mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level that control inflammation in the injured spinal cord. Visit the Dekaban lab website

Dr. Rod DeKoter - gene regulation in the immune system

Transcription factor proteins positively or negatively regulate gene expression in the nucleus of cells. Our laboratory studies transcription factors that regulate gene expression in the immune system. There are currently two areas of investigation in our laboratory. First, we are investigating how E26-transformation specific (Ets) family proteins regulate genes involved in B cell receptor (BCR) expression and signal transduction. Misinterpreted BCR signaling can lead to a failure of central tolerance and cause autoimmune disease. Second, we are investigating how the Ets protein PU.1 regulates gene expression in myeloid cells. Reduced PU.1 levels can cause Acute myeloid leukemia (AML). We have generated mouse models for studying the consequences of reduced PU.1 levels in vivo and are working to identify key target genes responsible for causing disease. Vist the DeKoter lab website

Dr. Jimmy Dikeakos - HIV, immune evasion, protein structure

In addition to the virally encoded enzymes required for replication and assembly, HIV-1 expresses a collection of accessory proteins that lack intrinsic enzymatic activity but which are essential for disease pathogenesis by dysregulating host cell enzymatic activities to counterattack the host antiviral response and promote virus replication. In particular, the HIV-1 accessory protein Nef is required for the efficient onset of AIDS following HIV-1 infection. Nef modifies the host cellular environment in many ways, including alteration of T cell activation, modulation of apoptotic and autophagic pathways, as well as disrupts the intracellular trafficking of MHC-I and other cell surface molecules of helper T cells and macrophages. Our laboratory is interested in the various interactions between Nef and host cellular partners and how these interactions modulate membrane trafficking pathways to evade the immune system. Visit the Dikeakos lab website

Dr. Yong Gao - HIV, vaccines

Identification of a safe and effective prophylactic vaccine to prevent HIV-1 infection is among the highest priorities in HIV/AIDS research.  Limited immunogenicity and breadth of several vaccine candidates tested in clinical trials, and setbacks in efficacy trials for both antibody- and T cell-based vaccines, highlight the fact that major gaps exist in our basic understanding of how to develop a protective HIV-1 vaccine. We think that the major obstacle for an effective and protective vaccine is the extreme HIV-1 genetic diversity at both a regional level and in the global epidemic, so we are mainly focusing on developing multiple-valent anti-HIV vaccine by utilizing HIV-1 envelope recombinants, as well as parental HIV-1 strains. We are also working on vector design, immunization optimization, generate novel SHIVenv viruses, and screening for broadly neutralizing anti-HIV antibodies. In addition, our research work also involves HIV diversity, recombination and drug resistance.. Visit the Gao lab website

Dr. Lakshman Gunaratnam - transplantation, autoimmunity

The laboratory of Dr. Gunaratnam is studying the potential role of kidney injury molecule-1, a protein that is expressed by the kidney tubular epithelial cells soon after injury, in regulating the innate immune response and in preventing rejection. By uncovering the detailed mechanisms that enable kidney epithelial cells to control early inflammation following transplant surgery, we hope to identify specific therapeutic strategies to increase the lifespan of transplanted kidneys. Visit the Gunaratnam lab website

Dr. Mansour Haeryfar - CTL biology, antiviral immunity, tumor immunology

(1) Cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) development in response to viral pathogens and tumor antigens; (2) Immunodominance hierarchies of CD8+ T cells; (3) Direct priming and cross-priming in CD8+ T cell responses; (4) Immunobiology of dendritic cells and other antigen-presenting cells in immunity and tolerance 5) Modulation of innate and adaptive immune responses by regulatory/suppressor lymphocytes such as naturally occurring CD4+CD25+ regulatory T (nTreg ) cells, natural killer T (NKT) cells, etc. (6) Non-classical pathways of T cell activation and costimulation. Visit the Haeryfar lab website

Dr. David Heinrichs - MRSA pathogenesis, MRSA-phagocyte interactions

Staphylococcus aureus creates tremendous burden on health care systems in Canada and around the world. It is associated with significant human infectious morbidity and mortality. It is very worrisome that not only is S. aureus uniquely able to infect virtually any tissue or organ in the body, but the spread of multidrug resistant strains has reached an epidemic state and a vaccine against this pathogen does not exist. The overarching direction of the research program is to understand critical aspects of the S. aureus:host relationship, including the ability of S. aureus to counter the host's attempts to starve microbes of key nutrients such as amino acids and divalent metals, and to survive killing by professional phagocytes like macrophages. Visit the Heinrichs lab website

Dr. Bryan Heit - phagocytosis, efferocytosis, immunity, athlersclerosis

Phagocytes (macrophage and dendritic cells) play a central role in our bodies immune defences. The Heit lab is interested in the mechanisms by which these cells take up pathogens (phagocytosis) and dead/dying cells (efferocytosis), and how these very different targets are processed by phagocytes. We are also interested in how these processes impact the development of pathological conditions such as athlersclerosis, autoimmunity and cancer. Visit the Heit lab website

Dr. Tony Jevnikar - transplantation, autoimmunity

Dr. Jevnikar’s laboratory is focused on epithelial and endothelial cell injury and the regulation of cellular death by as a means to promote transplant allograft survival. While there are a number of pathways that mediate cell death, regulated forms of death have the capacity to be regulated by fusion proteins, RNA silencing and small molecules, and are thus of clinical interest. Recently, the Jevnikar lab was the first to describe the role of regulated necrosis (necroptosis) within donor organs in decreasing inflammation and promoting survival post transplant. As well members of this laboratory and collaborators have been studying novel cytokines such as IL37 to attenuate or eliminate ischemia repercussion injury that invariably occurs post transplant in donor organs. Novel and costly reagents may be created in clinically feasible quantities using novel expression systems we have developed with genetically altered plants – another unique aspect of this laboratory. Collectively these areas of interest bridge the interface between innate and adaptive immunity, and the dynamic relation that exists between donor organ responses and recipient immunity. The lab is interested in transplantation related studies that have high translational potential which is a strength of this translational research group.

Dr. Yong Kang - HIV, vaccines, hepatitis

We are working on the molecular biology of several RNA viruses. Our ultimate goal is to control viral diseases. We are taking two approaches: the first approach is the development of efficacious vaccines against various human viral diseases including AIDS, hepatitis and hemorrhagic fever , and the second approach is the development of viral-specific antiviral therapeutic agents by using state-of-the-art technologies of genetic engineering and biotechnology. For the development of antiviral therapeutic agents, we have been investigating the molecular mechanism of homologous viral interference mediated by defective interfering particles using the vesicular stomatitis virus system and the viral reverse genetics. Visit the Kang lab website

Dr. Steven Kerfoot - multiple sclerosis, B cells, T follicular helper cells

T cells and B cells are tasked with targeting and regulating immune responses. When this goes wrong, autoimmune disease can result. Multiple Sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that targets the central nervous system. We study the mechanisms by which B and T cells drive chronic inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. These cells move and interact with each other within lymphoid tissue, where immune responses originate, as well as within the inflamed tissue. We visualize these interactions to understand their consequences and how they contribute to disease. Visit the Kerfoot lab website

Dr. Sung Kim - anthrax lethal toxin, immune signaling, probiotics

Macrophages residing in almost all tissues are specialized phagocytes positioned in the first line of host defense and a rich source of cytokines regulating immune responses. Different microbes manipulate macrophage to live in harmony with their host or target macrophages to colonize and proliferate. Our laboratory investigates the molecular and signalling mechanisms by which macrophages interact and response to different microbes, including Bacillus anthracis, commensals and probiotics. Our researches will provide new tools and therapeutic strategies for treating inflammatory and infectious diseases. Visit the Kim lab website

Dr. Jim Koropatnick - metal homeostasis

Metal ions are everywhere in our environment. Some are purely toxic, others are essential for life -- and some are both. We are exploring the roles of metallothioneins, and metal ion and amino acid transporter proteins, that affect the toxicity and physiological activity of metals. Metallothioneins can mediate the activity of zinc-requiring transcription factors (NF- k B and the glucocorticoid receptor) and that function is being explored in immune and other cells (funded by the CIHR). In addition, we are developing antisense drugs to target mRNAs (thymidylate synthase and bcl-2) that mediate anticancer drug resistance (funded by the CIHR); and to measure hypoxic response in primary human tumours (in collaboration with clinical researchers in the London Regional Cancer Program). Visit the Koropatnick lab website

Dr. Susan Koval - predatory prokaryotes, bacterial ultrastructure

Research in our laboratory is directed towards an understanding of the structure and function of bacterial surface components. Our current research is focussed on the prokaryotic obligate predators Bdellovibrio‑and‑like organisms (BALOs). These bacteria have a developmental life cycle which includes a free‑living attack phase and a periplasmic growth phase. We are interested in the mechanism of attachment and invasion of predators to the Gram‑negative prey cells, with the goal of determining the components of predator and prey surfaces that dictate attachment and penetration. We also have a long-standing interest in paracrystalline protein surface layers (S-layers) and flagella of both Bacteria and Archaea. Visit the Koval lab website

Dr. Jamie Mann - vaccine strategies

Dr Jamie Mann received his PhD in Immunology from the University of Strathclyde and then worked as a postdoctoral research scientist at Imperial College (UK) and Case Western Reserve University (USA). Throughout his scientific career, Dr Mann has been involved in the development of novel vaccination strategies, including both prophylactic and therapeutic HIV-1 approaches. These have taken the form of microparticle and nanoparticle formulations, DNA vaccine delivery, virus like particles, adjuvants, receptor targeted delivery, electroporation and topical mucosal vaccination. More recently, Dr Mann has managed HIV-1 cure studies, evaluating methods to eliminate the latent viral reservoir. These are multi-center studies involving close collaborations with Imperial College London, University of Montreal, Vaccine Research Centre (NIAID), and Tulane National Primate Research Center.

Dr. John McCormick - immunobiology of superantigens, molecular genetics, probiotics

Our major research focus includes a detailed structural and functional characterization of a group of potent "superantigen" toxins produced by the notorious human pathogens Streptococcus pyogenes and Staphylococcus aureus . Our goals include the development of novel inhibitors for these toxins and harnessing their properties for immunotherapeutic agents.We are also interested in host-pathogen and interspecies bacterial communication systems. This work includes communication between pathogens and commensal or probiotic organisms, and we are utilizing proteomic and in vivo expression technology systems to achieve these goals. Visit the McCormick lab website

Dr. Martin McGavin - MRSA, inflammation, immune evasion

Staphylococcus aureus can establish asymptomatic nasal carriage in approximately 15-25% of the human population, but is also a successful pathogen in several different guises, including (i), hospital associated multiply antibiotic resistant S. aureus (HA-MRSA); (ii), community associated and hyper-virulent methicillin resistant CA-MRSA; and (iii), community associated methicillin-susceptible S. aureus. My research is aimed at understanding how S. aureus responds to and evades chemical innate defence mechanisms of the skin and tissue abscesses, with an emphasis on antimicrobial fatty acids. Bacteria encounter antimicrobial unsaturated free fatty acids during colonization of the nose, skin, and within tissue abscesses. We are evaluating how production of secreted virulence factors is altered by exposure to antimicrobial fatty acids, and mechanisms of resistance, including efflux pumps, regulatory genes, and altered metabolic activity. Potentially, inhibition of the microbes defence mechanisms will allow our own innate defence mechanisms to be more effective in eradication of S. aureus, and this would also make conventional antibiotics more effective. From a population biology perspective, we are also identifying strains of S. aureus that specialize in chronic persistent infection, as compared to severe acute infections. This will allow us to better understand how S. aureus can control or evade the host inflammatory response, and possibly to understand how it may adapt and evolve in response to our efforts to control it with antibiotics. Visit the McGavin lab website

Dr. Joe Mymryk - tumor viruses, gene regulation, adenovirus, HPV

My research is focused on using small DNA viruses as tools to explore and discover fundamental mechanisms regulating eukaryotic cell growth and gene expression. We study the early viral proteins of the small DNA tumor viruses, particularly human adenovirus E1A and papillomavirus E7, which can convert normal cells into cancer. Our goal is to exploit these viral oncogenes to identify and characterize cellular regulatory pathways that, when altered, contribute to cancer formation and its spread. Visit the Mymryk lab website

Dr. Art Poon - virus evolution, bioinformatics, molecular evolution

Description of research activities: My research focus is designing and implementing new computational methods to reconstruct the spread and adaptation of viruses from their genetic sequence variation.  Viruses evolve so rapidly that a single infection can become genetically unique within weeks or months of transmission.  We can use this evolutionary proliferation to characterize how a virus population has adapted to that patient’s immune system; to detect “hotspots” of virus transmission in an epidemic in real time; and to reconstruct the historical spread of a virus in human populations.  To accomplish this, we use a blend of techniques from mathematical modeling, phylogenetics, pattern recognition, open-source software development and high performance computing. Visit the Poon lab website

Dr. Jessica Prodger - Human microbiome, HIV-1 prevention, HIV_1 cure in Uganda

Our first research goal is to better understand natural resistance/susceptibility to HIV-1. Not all exposures to HIV-1 result in infection, and the risk varies greatly between individuals. Our group discovered that certain aspects of the penile microbiome can increase risk, and we believe this is through the recruitment of highly HIV-susceptible T and dendritic cell populations to the genital mucosa, as part of the targeted immune response to certain microbes. We are currently working to identify the species/strains of microbes responsible for increasing HIV-1 risk, and the specific aspects of the immune response to these microbes that render an individual more susceptible. We plan to use this knowledge to create targeted antimicrobials to prevent HIV-1 infections. Our second goal is to understand the unique barriers to curing individuals living with HIV-1 in sub-Saharan Africa. HIV-1 remains incurable due to the stable integration of viral DNA into the host genome. Strategies to reverse this latent infection are under development, including those developed by Drs. Jamie Mann and Eric Arts in the WHIG. However, while the vast majority of cure-related research is performed in North Americans, over 2/3 of HIV-infected individuals live in Africa, where different circulating HIV-1 subtypes, immunological pressures, clinical histories, and genetic backgrounds may alter the efficacy of cure strategies. We have shown that individuals living in Uganda have a reduced frequency of latently infected cells, but may have differing immunological characteristics than their North American peers, requiring tailored cure strategies. We are working to further characterize latent HIV-1 infection in this Ugandan population, and are working with Drs. Mann and Arts to test their HIV-1 cure strategies. Visit the Prodger lab website

Dr. Gregor Reid - probiotics

Our lab is interested in understanding how indigenous and exogenously applied (probiotics) bacteria, especially lactobacilli confer health benefits primarily in the female gut, breast and urogenital tract. Our projects include: high throughput sequencing, transcriptomics, metabolomics, bacterial culture and in vitro testing, and human trials. We have projects in Africa, Netherlands, New Zealand and other countries. All our students publish papers, attend conferences and work collectively to try and improve the well-being of others. Visit the Reid lab website

Dr. Bhagi Singh - diabetes, Centre for Human Immunology

Autoimmune diseases affect 5-7% of the population. The focus of our laboratory is to develop specific immunotherapeutic approaches for autoimmune type 1 diabetes (T1D). For this purpose we investigate the regulation of autoimmunity by understanding the molecular, cellular and genetic basis of the T cell-mediated immune responses in diabetes. Visit the Singh lab website

Dr. Alp Sener - transplantation

The nature of transplantation leads to tissue injury as organs are damaged by the loss of blood supply and ischemia associated with the procurement procedure. The potential benefit of donor tissue and storage modification to protect organs has not been intensively investigated as mainstream approaches to improving transplant survival remains focused on pharmacological inhibition of immune cell activation. As the discrepancy between the availability of donor organs the increasing rate of patients who require renal transplants continues to diverge, the search for methods of prolonging renal graft survival becomes paramount. My laboratory is interested in establishing novel strategies of minimizing post-transplant graft rejection and in promoting improved early and late renal allograft survival using both in vitro and in vivo models for donor tissue and cell modification, as this represents a complementary approach to T cell mediated tolerance in promoting both short and long-term graft survival. Visit the Sener lab website

Dr. Kelly Summers - multiplex laboratory

Our lab is both a Research & Development lab and a Service lab that is focused on evaluating cellular immune responses in various clinical settings including autoimmune diseases, inflammatory disorders/conditions, plus drug efficacy and mechanisms. This includes using and developing innovative, multiplex bead-based assays to quantify multiple protein immune regulators (up to 40) simultaneously in small sample volumes (< 50 uL) of most biological fluids. Our goal is to identify new target biomarkers with diagnostic and/or therapeutic significance in clinical settings. We have several collaborative research projects with local Clinicians, Scientists, and private companies and gladly welcome new collaborations! Visit the Summers lab website

Dr. Ryan Troyer -

Dr. Ze-Chun Yuan - bacterial genetics, signal transduction

We are employing multidisciplinary approaches including molecular genetics, functional genomics, bioinformatics, metagenomics and chromosome engineering to elucidate how environmental signals, plant- or microbe-derived chemicals/signals modulate bacterial pathogenesis, biofilm formation, cell-to-cell communication (quorum sensing), and how plant-associated bacteria and plant hosts perceive and transduce these signals (biotic, abiotic stress responses), in particular, the mutual perception and interaction between plants and plant-associated bacteria (beneficial or detrimental). We are also studying bacteria that participate in nutrient cycling, bioremediation, biofuel conversion, biological control, promoting plant growth, health and productivity, tolerance to biotic, abiotic stresses, or producing antimicrobial agents. Our researches offer many opportunities for cross-disciplinary training for undergraduate/graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Visit the Yuan lab website