Basic science research has been transformed in recent years to take on a more "holistic" approach to understand biological systems. This has involved the rapid evolution of high-throughput technologies by which large amounts of experimental data are collected, analyzed, and applied to complex questions of biology and diseases. Proteomics, an emerging systems biology technology, is an effective tool to evaluate protein expression at the global level, which provides information on the function of biological systems. My lab is focused on applying and developing mass spectrometry and bioinformatic tools to study both host and microbial systems.
The human microbiome is comprised of trillions of organisms that perform essential functions important for our health. For example, our microbiome helps us digest our food and provide nutrients essential for our health. It also helps us develop a strong immune system and helps to deter opportunistic pathogens. The microbiome has been linked with many human diseases, including diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease, and many others. Our lab studies utilizes high-throughput molecular tools to study the functional properties of the microbiome to understand its role in immunity.
We have been investigating how the microbiome of the female genital tract plays a role in reproductive health and susceptibility to disease. We've discovered that the vaginal microbiome is linked to increased HIV infection risk in women, and how it can reduce the efficacy of topical antiretroviral-based pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV protection (Science, 2017. PMID: 28572388). We've been studying how functional alterations of vaginal bacteria can impact epithelial wound healing and inflammation in the female genital tract (PLoS Path., 2016. PMID: 27656899), and how this relates to contraceptives, hormones, and the menstrual cycle (J. Infectious Disease, 2016. PMID: 28011908; J. Reproductive Immunology, 2018. PMID: 29709092). We continue to research how the microbiome influences host susceptibility to disease.
The mucosal barrier plays an integral function in human health as it is the primary defense against pathogens, and provides a critical transition between the external environment and the human internal body. These include the mucosal surfaces of the mouth, lungs, eyes, ears, gastointestinal tract, female and male reproductive tracts. There are many components that are critical to the function of mucosal barriers which can include immune cells, epithelial layers, commensal bacteria, and thousands of soluble molecular factors. By utilizing systems biology approaches, we examine the etiology of mucosal system perturbations at the molecular level. A primary focus of our lab is to study mucosal dysfunction and inflammation how this relates to HIV transmission and pathogenesis.
We have shown the connection between neutrophil-proteolytic pathways underlying mucosal damage leading to increased frequency of cervicovaginal HIV target cells (Mucosal Immology, PMID: 26104913). We have also studied how hormonal contraceptives and the menstrual cycle influence mucosal barriers and inflammation, which include perturbations of epithelial cell-cell adhesion and tissue remodeling, which may be important for HIV transmission risk (J. Infectious Dis. and J.Virol., PMID: 26085144, 28011908). In an animal model of HIV pathogenesis, we've studied the kinetics of mucosal dysfunction showing that epithelial dirsuption precedes immune activation (Muc. Immunology, PMID:29907866). We continue to research molecular processes important for mucosal dysfunction.
THRIVE stands for “The Study of Host-bacterial Relationships and Immune function in different Vaginal Environments”.
Our team, in collaboration with clinical partners at the Women's Health Research Centre, is currently studying the vaginal and gut microbiome in relationship to women's reproductive and sexual health.
We are enrolling local (Winnipeg) women to participate in a longitudinal study with aims to better understand how it changes over time, how it relates to diet, how it interacts with our immune system, and how it relates to reproductive health.