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Research


The research in our laboratory utilizes the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans as a model organism to study host-fungal interactions for the purpose of developing novel immune therapies and/or vaccines to treat or prevent invasive fungal infections. C. neoformans, the causative agent of cryptococcosis, is an opportunistic fungal pathogen that has the propensity to cause respiratory tract infections in severely immune compromised individuals and possesses a unique predilection to invade the central nervous system causing life-threatening meningoencephalitis.

Our laboratory uses a variety of immunological and molecular biology techniques together with animal model systems to accomplish our research goals. The ultimate hope is that these studies will lead to a greater understanding of host-fungal interactions and the development of protective immune based therapies against invasive fungal infections.

Defining Protective Host Immune Responses Against Cryptococcus neoformans Infections
Our laboratory has developed a genetically modified strain of C. neoformans in order to study protective immunity to cryptococcosis. This strain, designated H99γ, is engineered to secrete murine interferon-γ. Mouse models of infection with H99γ demonstrate sterilizing immunity against subsequent infections with the highly virulent wild type strain H99. Ongoing projects in the laboratory utilize this strain to investigate protective host immunity to cryptococcosis, proteomically identify immunodominant C. neoformans proteins, and evaluate potential vaccine strategies utilizing genetically modified strains of C. neoformans.

Identifying Targets for Anti-Fungal Drug Development
We utilize high throughput screening techniques to identify potential fungicides and inhibitors of fungal biofilm development in a small molecule library composed of natural and synthetic bioactive chemicals.

Characterizing Cryptococcus neoformans Biofilm-Forming Conditions
We are interested in characterizing conditions favorable to biofilm formation in vitro and to investigate the role of in vivo biofilms during C. neoformans infection.