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Microbiology & Immunology


Jerome McKay The Hub

Jerome McKay: Bootleg Scientist

The Department of Microbiology and Immunology has a vibrant research program in host-pathogen interaction and immune regulation with departmental faculty who are highly dedicated to graduate student training.  

Research in the department is concentrated on pathogens that are of substantial clinical importance including Streptococcus pneumoniae, Bordetella pertussis, influenza virus, herpesvirus, and adenovirus.  Many of these pose particular threats for infants and young children. 

Faculty with expertise in bacteriology and virology have programs focused on elucidating the mechanisms utilized by pathogens to cause disease, with the ultimate goal of understanding how we might better combat these infectious agents. The programs of faculty focused on the immune response seek to understand how B cells and T cells are regulated following infection with the goal of promoting a more efficacious response.

An emerging collaborative area of focus in the department is coinfection with multiple pathogens.  Here, faculty with expertise in bacteriology, virology, and immunology are working together to understand the disease that is caused when multiple infections are present, e.g. pneumococcus and influenza virus. Coinfections have been appreciated as a clinically significant problem for a number of years, with one of the most well known examples being the 1918 influenza pandemic.

Deora 4-2015
Dr. Raj Deora is working to develop a novel vaccine against whooping cough. (link)


Because vaccines are the most effective way to limit disease, many faculty in the department have projects centered on the development of improved vaccines.  These include pneumococcus, which is responsible for pneumonia, Bordetella, the causative agent of whooping cough, and influenza.  While vaccines are available for these pathogens, new approaches are greatly needed. For example, the current vaccine for B. pertussis is comprised of purified proteins.  While capable of eliciting an immune response, this vaccine is only partially protective.  As a result, whooping cough is on the rise.  Vaccines against pneumococcus are also available, but immunity wanes over time and responses cannot be effectively boosted, leaving individuals, especially the elderly, susceptible to disease. Individuals at the other end of the age spectrum, young infants, are also highly vulnerable to severe disease following infection.  As a result of a weakened immune system, vaccines work poorly in infants.  Efforts are ongoing to develop vaccines for influenza that will work in this at-risk infant population.

Dr. Martha Alexander-Miller is developing influenza vaccines that will work in young infants. (video)


Faculty with expertise in immunology, cell damage and repair, and virology are also investigating mechanisms of tumorigenesis and ways to combat cancer.  Faculty research is focused on harnessing the power of the immune system to treat cancer is broadening our understanding of how cancer-based vaccines, cancer-fighting immune cells, and immunotherapy targeting checkpoint inhibitors might effectively treat malignancies.  Work on the regulation of herpesviruses latency is laying the groundwork for understanding herpesvirus-mediated oncogenesis.  Finally, faculty research on oncolytic adenoviruses and their mechanisms of inducing DNA damage is leading to optimized oncolytic viruses for use as anti-cancer therapies. Microbiology and Immunology faculty work in close collaboration with fellow faculty members in our NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center with the goal of leveraging expertise to devise novel and effective approaches to treat cancer.

We invite you to explore the research of our faculty in more detail, which is presented in their individual research descriptions as well as in the video links on this page.  We also invite prospective students to view the additional information about our graduate program.

Mizel 4-2015
Dr. Steve Mizel has created a vaccine against the bubonic plague. (link)


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Microbiology & Immunology
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Last Updated: 06-13-2016
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