Dept. of Microbiology & Immunology
Basic Sciences Building
New York Medical College
Valhalla, NY 10595
There are two primary research focuses in my laboratory. The first is understanding the cells and mechanisms involved in immune regulation at mucosal surfaces. Mucosal surfaces, such as the linings of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and genitourinary tracts are exposed to an enormous amount of innocuous (harmless) antigens and beneficial commensal bacteria, as well as being the site of entry for ~90% of human pathogens. The mucosal immune system has had to evolve elegant regulatory mechanisms to protect against potential pathogens while avoiding potentially damaging inflammatory responses to innocuous commensal bacteria and harmless environmental antigens. We believe that understanding these mechanisms will help us to be able to regulate unwanted immune responses such as in chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Conversely, understanding these mechanisms will also help us to overcome regulatory mechanisms for the purpose of developing effective mucosal vaccines. One ongoing research project in the lab is understanding the basic mechanisms involved in the development of intestinal regulatory CD8+ T cells. These cells are capable of suppressing Th1 and Th17 immune responses and may play an integral role in mediating mucosal homeostasis. Another ongoing research project is the development of intranasally administered vaccines. Experimentally, mucosal vaccination induces optimal protection at both mucosal surfaces and systemically, while parenteral (injectable) vaccines induce primarily systemic immune responses with poor mucosal protection. We are currently developing an intranasal vaccine against Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of Plague.
The second research focus in my laboratory is the development of improved diagnostic tests for tick-transmitted diseases: Lyme disease, Human Granulocytic Anaplasmosis (HGA), and Babesiosis. Peptide-based serodiagnostics provide improved specificity and sensitivity over current whole organism or whole protein-based assays for Lyme disease and HGA. We are performing epitope mapping of key antigens in Borrelia burdgorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, and Anaplasma phagocytophilum, the causative agent of HGA, to identify more effective peptide assay targets. We are also developing a cytokine release assay for Lyme disease, which functions as an alternative to serodiagnosis. Finally, we are developing an antigen capture assay for the detection of Babesia microti, the causative agent of babesiosis. This blood borne parasite infects red blood cells, and can be transmitted by transfusion of infected blood. There is currently no test to screen for infected blood, rendering the blood supply susceptible to contamination with this parasite. We are developing a test to prevent this.