Area of Interest
My lab studies how the how programmed cell death can be used to defend against intracellular infections. Programmed cell death can be initiated by the infected cell itself, or by cytotoxic lymphocytes both in the innate and adaptive immune system. Our interests began with the study of how cytosolic inflammasome sensors detect bacterial pathogens. For example, we showed that NLRC4-caspase-1 detects the activity of the bacterial type III secretion system, whereas caspase-11 detects the LPS shed from Gram-negative bacteria that invade the cytosol. In response, caspase-1 and -11 drive pyroptotic programmed cell death, where the infected cell literally explodes. More recent work has led us to study how natural killer cells and cytotoxic T cells drive programmed cell death to defend against intracellular pathogens. We also have interests in expanding into how other forms of programmed cell death defend against infection, but also may become immunopathologic during inflammatory disease.
We study a variety of pathogens that target the gastrointestinal tract, including intestinal pathogens as well as pathogens that are tropic for infection of the liver. We study host adapted pathogens such as Salmonella Typhimurium and Listeria monocytogenes. We also study environmental opportunists that the immune system normally eradicates without a trace, but which can be deadly when immune defenses are absent, such as Burkholderia thailandensis and Chromobacterium violaceum.
Awards and Honors
- 2017, 2018 Highly Cited Researcher – Clarivate / Web of Science (formerly Thomson Reuters) – (top 1% most cited)
- 2016 Teaching Merit Bonus (for outstanding teaching at UNC)
- 2016 Yang Biomedical Scholars Award (for recently tenured UNC faculty; $75,000 direct over 3 years)
- 2015 UNC Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Award
- 2014 Jefferson-Pilot Fellowship in Academic Medicine (for an outstanding UNC junior faculty member; $20,000 over 4 years)
- 2000-2002 Paul Allen Foundation Fellowship Award
- 2000 Helen Riaboff Whitely Endowed Fellowship Award
- 1997-2000 Poncin Scholarship
- 1993 Howard Hughes Summer Honors Advanced Research Program