The Drexel University College of Medicine Department of Microbiology and Immunology has strong research programs in the areas of parasitic, viral and opportunistic infections, bacterial pathogenesis and biodefense, immunology, molecular genetics, and drug development. These research programs are driven by investigators with national and international reputations and long histories of extramural funding from the NIH and other governmental, industrial, and philanthropic funding sources. The department is also actively engaged in the supervision of the Molecular Genomics Core Facility, Protein Science Core Facility, and the Large Format Printer Core Facility.
Malaria: Malaria remains a major health problem in a large part of the world with 300-500 million cases and 1-3 million deaths per year. A major area of research emphasis in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology is focused on various aspects of malarial disease and the challenge it poses to the world. The range of research interests includes basic molecular and cell biological studies, understanding the mechanisms of antimalarial drug action and resistance, studying immunity to malaria and vaccine development, and field investigations to understand the genetic basis for severe malaria. A wide range of tools and approaches are used that include bioinformatics, DNA microarrays, and yeast two-hybrid screens, as well as a variety of other molecular genetic, immunological and biochemical techniques. Researchers at this College represent one of the largest academic groups in the country working to understand, treat and prevent malarial disease.
Virology: Another focus of researchers within the Department of Microbiology and Immunology is the study of respiratory viruses and retroviruses as causative agents of disease. Within this framework are two main research efforts: one on influenza virus and the influence of aging on human immune response to this important and wide-spread pathogen, and another on human immunodeficiency virus type-1 (HIV-1) and human T cell lymphotropic virus type I (HTLV-I). HIV-1 and HTLV-I are pathogenic agents responsible for causing immune and nervous system diseases in millions of individuals around the globe. Investigations of the retroviral pathogens are directed toward (1) understanding the role that viral and cellular gene functions play in the pathogenesis of HIV-1 and HTLV-I-associated immune system and central nervous system diseases; (2) the development of topical microbicides to be used for prevention of HIV-1 transmission; and (3) the role of CD8 + T cells in immune response to viruses. A number of studies have indicated that HIV-specific CD8 + T cells may be functionally impaired. Our investigators are examining the functional defects of HIV-specific CD8 + T cells and exploring strategies to enhance their survival, function, and ability to control or clear HIV virus.
Bacterial Pathogenesis, Opportunistic Infections, and Biodefense: Investigators in this group are involved in research related to sexually transmitted diseases caused by Neisseria gonorrhea , meningitis resulting from Neisseria meningitides infection, and biodefense-related research focused on the pathogenesis of Bacillus anthracis . Several determinants of virulence are being investigated, including: (1) the role and regulation of surface sialylation - "sugar coating" - of the pathogenic Neisseria in their defense against innate human defenses; (2) the function of a family of outer membrane (Opa) proteins in the ability of the pathogenic Neisseria to bind, enter, and live within cells; and (3) the role of a newly described toxin, Anthrolysin O, in allowing B. anthracis to survive within and escape from human macrophages. In addition, exciting interactions among faculty from various schools and colleges at Drexel are focused towards developing rapid, reliable and durable sensors for biological agents.
Given the enormous challenge of successfully treating opportunistic infections in humans, our investigators are involved in important studies on mycosis caused by fungi such as Candida and Aspergillus . These pathogenic microorganisms can be the cause of a serious complication in immunocompromised individuals. To address these needs, research within the Department of Microbiology and Immunology is aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms of antifungal action, resistance, and toxicity. Current efforts exploit the powerful genetic and microarray tools available for the study of the model yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae.
Immunology, Genetics, and Translational Research: Autoimmune diseases affect an estimated 14 to 22 million Americans; 75 percent of whom are women. Collectively, these disorders are considered to be the fourth-largest cause of disability among women in the United States . Research within the department is focused on four major autoimmune disorders: Type 1 diabetes, SLE, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis. These efforts include the mapping and identification of genes that play a role in susceptibility to EAE, an animal model of multiple sclerosis in mice and rats; making a congenic for the only dominant diabetogenic locus in the rat for positional cloning of the QTL; testing a new model for virus-inducible Type 1 diabetes; and analyzing genetic variants in complement proteins and receptors as risk factors in the human autoimmune disease, SLE.
Clinical scientists with joint appointments in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology working in the area of infectious disease perform all four phases of clinical trials, including trials involving new antiretroviral agents and new combinations of approved agents. Our clinical collaborators are closely involved with studies focused on the treatment of persons infected with both HIV and hepatitis C viruses. While our clinical trials focus on new treatment modalities, outcomes-based research is also being performed to answer questions concerning health and financial effects associated with persons infected with HIV at different disease stages. The College of Medicine is home to a comprehensive center for HIV/AIDS research and patient care in the Delaware Valley, providing primary care to over 1,000 adults infected with HIV.
For additional information on the research programs of individual faculty, please visit the Faculty Research Pages. I invite you to visit the department and learn more about our outstanding ongoing research and educational efforts.