The research conducted in the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity (MI&I) is driven by the global problems related to infectious diseases and the nature of the immune responses. This research is necessary in order to develop tools for new diagnostics, therapies, and vaccines. In the past, researchers and clinicians have been faced with the challenge of staying ahead of common epidemics and pandemics, such as influenza and tuberculosis. Recently, a new breed of antibiotic-resistant pathogens and emerging pathogens has public health officials concerned as well.
In addition to these diseases, infections that accompany various other conditions and medical procedures and the costs associated with these infections, are among the highest in America's hospitals. With expertise in host-microbe interactions, innate and adaptive immunity, and therapeutics, the Department of MI&I serves as the hub for faculty striving toward similar goals of studying various aspects of microbial infection and immunity. The department provides teaching and research opportunities in microbe-host interactions and immunology and educates the general public with regard to information and knowledge of infectious diseases. Academic medical centers are in a very unique position to better understand these pathogens and the host response, and translate discoveries into personalized treatments and vaccines that can mitigate or prevent the often times devastating effects of these diseases.
Dr. Jacob Yount, an assistant professor of microbial infection and immunity, was awarded $1.8 million from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for his intent to investigate Interferon-Induced Transmembrane protein 3 (IFITM3) and develop infection prevention approaches or therapies based on IFITM3.
This naturally produced protein is capable of blocking all strains of influenza virus that have been tested in laboratories, as well as many other viruses, such as Ebola virus and West Nile virus. “Once we’re infected with a virus like influenza, our bodies quickly turn on immunity proteins that slow down the replication of the virus,” says Dr. Yount. This single protein is particularly important for limiting the severity of influenza virus infections. Patients with defective IFITM3 due to a genetic mutation experience more life-threatening illnesses as a result of the flu.
The new research will determine how IFITM3 blocks influenza virus infections. “We know that IFITM3 acts early in infections when a virus is trying to enter a cell,” reports Dr. Yount, “and that this is a different type of immune response from what is elicited by vaccines.”
The team has two goals. First, they will characterize a small piece of the protein that their early work indicates is essential for blocking infections and that may be small enough to have potential use as a drug. Second, they will study cellular pathways that control the abundance of IFITM3 in cells. Increasing the level of IFITM3 in cells prior to infection, instead of after infection has already occurred, could potentially prevent flu infections.
Characterization and enhancement of these natural processes may provide the new tools that are needed to fight existing and emerging viral diseases
Discover our faculty’s incredible research:
Biofilms & Microbial Communities
Immunology and Host Response
Host Tissue Environment
Diagnostics and Therapeutics Development
Drug Discovery & Development