My research interests are broadly centered on the immune response to viral and bacterial pathogens, with a focus on innate immune mechanisms of host resistance and application of that information to vaccine development. Current research in collaboration with the Department of Infectious Diseases (Dr. John Sanders laboratory) and supported by the U.S. Department of Defense, is focused on the development of vaccines for enteric bacterial pathogens. The goal of the work is to develop agile approaches to vaccine development as a preventative strategy to address the growing public health threat of antibiotic resistant bacterial infections.

One approach that is being tested is to use photoactivatable drugs in combination with UV light to inactivate bacteria by targeting nucleic acid. The underlying hypothesis is that light inactivation will generate vaccines of superior immunogenicity relative to conventional chemical inactivation, by preserving surface-exposed protein antigens in a native form that resembles that of live, infectious organisms. This approach is being evaluated using in vitro and in vivo models to generate vaccines for enterotoxigenic E. coli (ETEC), Campylobacter jejuni and Shigella flexneri, the three predominant bacterial causes of diarrheal illness worldwide. Similar efforts are being directed toward vaccines for Neisseria gonorrhoeae and uropathogenic E. coli (UPEC).  

As a Wake Forest School of Medicine scientist and member of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, I believe that it is important to share information about the research being conducted at our institution, including related careers, with the surrounding community. Science and health education events hosted by the CTSI Program in Community Engagement and the North Carolina Association for Biomedical Research (NCABR) are incorporated into the research program as opportunities arise, for the purpose of promoting public understanding of the importance of biomedical research to the health and well-being of the community at large.