Our laboratory uses proteomics, immunology, biochemistry, and molecular biology to decipher complex disorders through molecular profiling of patients’ immune responses. We are focused on conducting translational research aimed at identifying novel biomarkers, understanding disease mechanism, and finding therapeutic targets. Two areas of research are pursued:
Research Area 1 – Inflammatory response to dietary and microbial molecules in the context of gastrointestinal and neuropsychiatric disease—investigating the gut-immune-brain connection.
Human intestinal mucosal surfaces are colonized by large communities of microorganisms and are in constant contact with an abundance of highly immunogenic dietary and microbial components. Proper regulation of the interaction between the host and the contents of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is of utmost importance in avoiding aberrant immune responses and requires several different mechanisms. Failure of one or more of these regulatory mechanisms can adversely affect human health, not only through GI disorders, but also via systemic manifestations that may influence cognition and behavior. A primary goal of our group is investigation of the role of mucosal inflammation and intestinal barrier function in the context of GI and neuropsychiatric symptoms. Disease focus areas in our lab include celiac disease, non-celiac wheat/gluten sensitivity, irritable bowel syndrome, autism spectrum disorders, and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome.
Research Area 2 – Mechanisms and biomarkers of post-infection persistence of inflammation and symptoms.
There is evidence that persistence of symptoms following antibiotic treatment of certain infections may be immune-mediated. A critical barrier to a better understanding of the mechanisms involved has been the lack of biomarkers to characterize disease phenotypes and analyze treatment outcome. Our laboratory is conducting studies to understand the connection between the bacterial strain genotype in specific infections, host immune response, and the persistence of inflammation and symptoms following infection. We are also working towards establishing biomarkers to predict the risk of developing post-infection symptoms. Our work in this context has been primarily focused on infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease, which is the most common vector-borne infection in the United States and Europe.