Professor, William Rand Kenan; Director of the Center for Translational Immunology; co-Director of the Inflammatory Diseases Institute
Microbiology and Immunology
Area of interest
Analysis of the NLR gene family. – A major focus is the study of NLR genes in diseases, ranging from inflammatory disorders, cancer and infectious diseases. We are working with multiple labs across campus to assess the roles of NLRs in diseases. One of our unique discoveries is that many NLRs are negative regulators of inflammation. As a consequence, their dysregulation can lead to immunologic imbalance. For example, NLR-X1 reduces inflammation that promotes cancer growth. This gene is downregulated in colon cancer and colitis in humans, and conventional anti-inflammatory therapeutics can be repurposed to combat cancer or colitis resulting from low NLR-X1 in mouse models. We also find that negative NLRs maintain tolerance to microbiome and prevent microbiome imbalance. Importantly, restoring specific bacteria order restores colon health suggesting a therapeutic path forward.
Usage of innate immune agonists as vaccine adjuvant. – We are working to explore the use of nano-particles and micro-particles to deliver innate immune agonists that can control immunity. We have used these agonists to mode the immune response as to elicit superior immunity for the development of vaccines for cancer and infectious viruses. We will continue to focus on difficult-to-treat cancers such as triple-negative breast cancer and high impact infections such as influenza, Dengue and Zika viruses.
Awards and Honors
- American Association of Immunologists, Vice President 2019-2020
- NCI Outstanding Investigator Award, 2019-2016
- Clarivate/Analytics Highly Cited Researcher 2017, 2018
- Hyman L. Battle Distinguished Cancer Research Award, 2017
- Thomas Reuter Highly Cited Researcher, 2015, 2016
- Academia Sinica, Taiwan, elected member, 2015
- Henry Kunkel Society, elected member, 2015
- University Award for the Advancement of Women, UNC-CH, 2013
- American Association of Immunologists Centennial Conference, Distinguished Lecturer, 2013
- American Association of Immunologists Life Technologies Meritorious Award, 2013