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Faculty active in this area of research are listed below. For a brief description of their research interests, click on their name in the list. Clicking on the name at the beginning of the brief description links to their detailed personal website.

T Prescott Atkinson, MD, PhD, Department of Pediatrics
J. Edwin Blalock, PhD, Department of Medicine
Jessy Deshane, PhD, Department of Medicine
Craig A. Elmets, MD, Department of Dermatology
Beatriz Leon, PhD, Department of Microbiology
Frances E. Lund, Department of Microbiology
Lisa Schwiebert, PhD, Department of Cell, Developmental, & Integrative Biology

T Prescott Atkinson, MD, PhD Research in my laboratory is focused on the role of infection in chronic diseases, especially arthritis and asthma. Ongoing projects in coordination with the UAB Diagnostic Mycoplasma Laboratory are designed to identify mycoplasmas and ureaplasmas in human samples with particular emphasis on the role of those organisms in chronic asthma and extreme prematurity respectively.  Previous studies in my laboratory established that Mycoplasma pneumoniae is able to activate mast cells to produce IL-4 through sialic acid-dependent binding to the high affinity receptor for IgE, a finding with potential implications in the pathogenesis of asthma and potentially a general mechanism in the activation of cells of the immune system by that organism. Work is currently proceeding to determine the current prevalence of macrolide resistance strains of M. pneumoniae in the Birmingham area. I am also actively engaged in the development of rational strategies to determine the molecular basis for unidentified immunodeficiencies in patients in my weekly clinical immunology clinics at Children’s of Alabama. Such patients may represent natural “knockouts” or dominant negative mutations in signaling molecules and provide valuable insights into critical steps in receptor signaling in the human immune system.

J. Edwin Blalock, PhD The overall objective of our current research is to delineate certain genetic rules that govern the shape and function of proteins and peptides. Specifically, nucleic acids encode amino acid sequences in a binary fashion with regard to hydropathy. We and others have provided compelling evidence that the exact pattern of polar and nonpolar amino acids, rather than the precise identity of particular R groups, is an important driving for protein shape. Structural proof for this idea is being pursued through determination of the 3-dimensional structures of peptides with dissimilar primary amino acid sequences but identical binary codes. These design principles are being used: 1) to make synthetic peptides specifically targeted to act as agonists and antagonists of Ca++ channels involved in human immunodeficiency virus-mediated apoptosis and 2) to make synthetic peptide vaccines as immunotherapeutic agents against autoimmune diseases of the nervous system such as myasthenia gravis (MG) and multiple sclerosis (MS). Additional research areas include: First, together with colleagues at the University of Utrecht, we are evaluating the aforementioned peptide regulators of Ca++ channels for utility in models of asthma. Second, together with Dick Marchase's group, we are elucidating the structure and function of a novel Ca++ influx factor (CIF) which is a key signal for store-operated Ca++ entry. Third, we are studying the role of these CIF-operated channels, as well as their regulation by glucosamine in diabetes.

Jessy Deshane, PhD Dr. Deshane is committed to an academic career combining basic and translational research with an emphasis on inflammatory diseases of the airway. The focus of Dr. Deshane's research program is to enhance our understanding of the role of myeloid-derived regulatory cells in chronic airway inflammatory diseases. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways in which innate and adaptive immune cells participate as drivers of the inflammatory response. Free radical species have long been implicated as critical mediators of the asthmatic inflammatory process. Dr. Deshane's studies in a mouse model of allergic airway inflammation have established that subsets of free radical-producing myeloid-derived regulatory cells (MDRC) are master regulators of airway inflammation. They are potent modulators of both T cell responses and airway hyper-responsiveness. Dr. Deshane has identified human MDRC with similar function in bronchoalveolar lavage of asthmatics. Her current research interests are (1) to explore the free radical and cytokine/chemokine mediated mechanisms underlying the differentiation and function of myeloid derived regulatory cells in the establishment of airway inflammation and resolution of inflammation (2) to investigate MDRC- mediated regulation of the balance of Tregulatory cells and Th17 cells which control the tolerance vs inflammation (3) to understand how environmental pollutants such as tobacco smoke would impact MDRC function and contribute to exacerbation of inflammation in asthmatic smokers. These studies will provide insight into the role of MDRC in tobacco related pathology of the lung.

Craig A. Elmets, MD Dr. Elmets’ research focuses on the interaction of environmental agents with the skin. His research has particular relevance to skin cancer and cutaneous allergic reactions. In the area of skin cancer, his interests are on skin cancer chemoprevention and therapy. He has played a key role in defining the mechanisms by which the immune system controls the development of skin cancers. More recent studies have centered on the identification of new agents that can protect against skin cancer and on the non-surgical treatment of these malignancies. These include the arthritis drug celecoxib and extracts of green tea. He has also played a major role in the development of photodynamic therapy as a treatment for cancer. Photodynamic therapy utilizes light activated drugs to eradicate cancer. Dr. Elmets’ other area of research is on allergic contact dermatitis, of which poison ivy is the best-known example. He is evaluating better and more accurate diagnostic techniques for contact allergies. His studies have shown that certain proteins called cytokines are synthesized in skin cells from allergic individuals exposed to contact allergens but not in those obtained from people who are the not allergic. These findings provide the conceptual framework for the development of a diagnostic test for skin allergy testing, which can used by physicians and by industry as an alternative to animal testing prior to the introduction of new products into the marketplace.

Beatriz Leon, PhD The major research interests of the laboratory include studying the in vivo regulation of T cell responses by dendritic cells (DC), including the control of effector CD4 and CD8 T cells responses and the modulation of memory T cells. One of the lab’s major projects is to characterize the roles that DC subpopulations play in the induction of T Helper 2 (Th2) responses to common allergens that trigger allergic asthma. Infants are three to four times more prone to allergies than adults. Therefore, emphasis is placed on understanding the different molecular mechanisms involved in activation of T cells by infant and adult DC. In a second project, the lab evaluates the mechanisms determining the commitment and plasticity of memory follicular helper CD4 T cells (Tfh) cells and their role in allergy. Finally, the lab also studies how maternal alterations of bacterial microbiota affects asthma risk in offspring.

Frances E. Lund, PhD The overarching research objective of the Lund laboratory is to identify the key players that suppress or exacerbate mucosal inflammatory responses with the long-term goal of developing therapeutics to treat immunopathology associated with chronic infectious, allergic and autoimmune disease. One of the lab’s major projects is to characterize the roles that cytokine-producing “effector” B cells play in modulating inflammation and T cell-mediated immune responses to pathogens, autoantigens and allergens. In a second project, the lab evaluates how inflammatory signals regulate the balance between the development of the antibody-producing long-lived plasma cells and the memory B cell compartment within lymphoid tissues. The lab also studies how these cells are maintained long-term at inflammatory sites. Finally, the lab examines how oxidative stress induced by reactive oxygen species impacts inflammation, immune responses and cellular metabolism. In particular, the lab is experimentally modulating the NAD metabolome of immune cell in order to alter the responsiveness of these cells to oxidative stress.

Lisa Schwiebert, PhD The major research interests of the laboratory include studying the physiology and pathophysiology of immune responses within the lung. These interests encompass the study of respiratory disorders in order to understand the cellular and molecular mechanisms that underlie airway inflammation. On-going projects examine how surface molecules, such as CFTR and CD40, regulate the airway epithelial expression of pro-inflammatory mediators, including chemokines and adhesion molecules, that initiate and exacerbate leukocyte migration. In addition, we are examining the anti-inflammatory effects of aerobic exercise on asthma-related immune responses. Through increased understanding of the mechanisms that trigger airway inflammation, we hope to develop novel therapeutic agents that combat airway inflammatory diseases such as cystic fibrosis and asthma.