Infectious diseases remain a major cause of illness and death. Conventional thinking is that fighting infection is a race between a pathogen's ability to evade host defenses and multiply, and the host's ability to destroy it. Research by our group challenges this paradigm with a novel concept: environmental factors play a fundamental role in the ultimate outcome of an infection.
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Recent research indicates that developmental exposure to pollutants is an overlooked but important contributor to poorer outcomes following viral infection; however, how these early life exposures cause enduring changes in immune function is not clear. Using a model developmental immunotoxicant and influenza A virus as a prototypical human pathogen, we are conducting research to determine precisely how developmental exposures reprogram the offspring's immune system.
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The objective of this project is to define key parameters involved in transgenerational inheritance of alterations in the function of the mammalian immune system that occur as a result of environmental exposure. Specifically, to determine how exposure of pregnant mothers affects no only their offspring’s immune system, but the immune system of subsequent generations (i.e., not just the F1 and F2 progeny, but also the F3 generation); a phenomenon called transgenerational inheritance.
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This research project is conducted in collaboration with Dr. Michael O’Reilly. Our goal is to understand how neonatal oxygen supplementation reprograms both lung development and the ability to respond to respiratory viral infections later in life. The rationale for the research is that premature infants often require oxygen supplementation and develop a condition called bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD). While many infants with BPD survive, and leave the hospital, they continue to show reduced lung function even through adolescence, and are often re-hospitalized when infected with respiratory viruses.
Learn more about Neonatal Oxygen Therapy and Altered Immunity to Respiratory Infection