Microbiology News

UAB Microbiology Department Welcomes New Faculty Member

Hui HuMeet Hui Hu, Ph.D., an immunologist focusing on transcriptional regulation of adaptive immunity—Tfh cell differentiation, GC responses, CD8+ T cell quiescence/activation, T cell responses, immune memory and vaccines.
Hu, who comes to UAB from the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia, joined the microbiology department in May.

After receiving his doctorate from Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden, in 1998, Hu came to the US and began postdoctoral training at the Trudeau Institute. He then moved to the Center for Cancer Research at MIT, where he was a postdoctoral associate. In 2002, Hu joined CBR Institute for Biomedical Research (IDI) at Harvard Medical School. He was an instructor in the Department of Pediatrics at Harvard’s Children’s Hospital before moving to the Wistar Institute in 2007. He worked for seven years at the Wistar Institute. Hu has received several awards and honors including the ACGT Young Investigator Award.

Hu’s research at UAB will focus on how to induce a primary antibody response like a memory one. “The humoral immune response is one of the two effector arms of the immune system,” explains Hu. “Studies have shown that CD4+ T follicular helper (Tfh) cells are essential for long-lived, high affinity antibody responses. Yet the complex regulation that determines the initial development of Tfh cells, their developmental progression in germinal centers (GC), and their fates after an immune response dissolves, is still not fully understood. Recently, my research has shown that transcription factor Foxp1 is a rate-limiting and essential negative regulator of Tfh cell differentiation, drastically affecting GC and antibody responses (Nat. Immunol. 2014).”

 “Usually your initial immune antibody response to an infectious agent takes about a week, and is relatively weak.” Hu says. “Now we have found an important regulatory step that could allow us to induce antibody responses more faster-acting and effective. And in the other way around, we may also be able to significantly dampen the antibody responses that are unwanted in some cases of autoimmune diseases such as lupus.”

Hu’s laboratory is also working to find a way to activate T cells under immunosuppressive circumstance. “Much of our understanding of molecular mechanisms regulating immune responses is centered on pathways and processes that promote cell activation, division and differentiation,” says Hu. “My research has already demonstrated that cell-intrinsic signaling pathways are required to maintain mature T cells in a quiescent state (Nat. Immunol. 2011). If these pathways are disrupted, resting T cells become aberrantly activated even in the absence of antigen challenge. My next step is to identify regulatory genes and pathways that actively restrain T cell activation, and define the roles of such negative regulatory pathways in controlling T cell quiescence, effector responses, memory maintenance, and tumor immunology.”

Faculty Retreat to Birmingham Botanical Gardens

Faculty Retreat 2014Informative, beneficial, vibrant . . . these three words describe the 2014 Microbiology Faculty Retreat, which was held on Wednesday, May 14th at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Dr. Fran Lund, chair of the department says, “The turnout was great, and our discussion sessions were especially good this year.

The faculty retreat is a valuable event that focuses on the two major objectives of the department—scientific research and education. Dr. Louis Justement says that the event “provides a venue for the diverse faculty to share research and ideas regarding ways to improve the department. Basically, the retreat is very valuable because it fosters communication between the faculty and communication is the key to building collaborations and for making the department stronger.”

This year’s meeting included presentations from eight faculty members— Drs. Mark Walter, Fran Lund, Hubert Tse, George Luo, Peter Prevelige, Christopher Klug, Janusz Kabarowski and David Bedwell.

Justement says that “faculty presentations are very helpful in letting other faculty in different areas of microbiology learn about what their colleagues are doing. It is also an opportunity to share new techniques and resources that are available within the department and at UAB.”

The time spent together at the day-long event at one of Birmingham’s most attractive meeting facilities was, indeed, informative, beneficial, and vibrant. “Hopefully some of the talks and discussions will lead to new shared opportunities for fun and exciting experiments,” says Lund.

2014 UAB Pneumococcal Symposium

What began in the late 1990s with only three UAB labs (Briles, Yother and Hollingshead) participating has become a biannual symposium attended by more than 70 attendees from six southeastern research institutions:

Wake Forest School of Medicine
Mississippi State University
University of Georgia
University of Mississippi Medical Center
Alabama State University
Pneumo Symposium 6Dr. David Briles speaks with Thelma Tower, a student from Mississippi State University, before her presentation.
Pneumo Symposium 2014Dr. Fikri Avci, University of Georgia This two-day symposium offers researchers an opportunity to share the latest developments in the field of pneumococcal research.

Distinguished speaker for the 2014 event was UAB microbiology alumni, William E. Swords, Ph.D. He discussed his research at Wake Forest School of Medicine, which focuses on understanding host-pathogen interactions that determine persistence vs. clearance in the airways.