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Reducing the Impact of Infectious Diseases by Supporting Trans-Disciplinary Academic Research


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Shayn Peirce-Cottler

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Shayn Peirce-Cottler is Professor of Biomedical Engineering with secondary appointments in the Department of Ophthalmology and Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Virginia. She received Bachelors of Science degrees in Biomedical Engineering and Engineering Mechanics from The Johns Hopkins University in 1997. She earned her Ph.D. in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of Virginia in 2002. Dr. Peirce-Cottler develops and uses computational models, in conjunction with novel experimental assays, to study complex, dynamic, and multi-cell biological systems. Her research focuses on understanding how heterogeneous cell behaviors and their interactions enable tissues to adapt over time, during physiological growth and in response to disease. Her multi-scale computational models employ agent-based modeling to bridge protein-level mechanisms with tissue-level, functional outcomes. Her research spans basic science discovery to the design of therapies for regenerative medicine. Specific areas of interest include acute and chronic inflammation, macrophage infection by pathogens, arterio-venous patterning, and the role of stem cells in orchestrating tissue regeneration. Dr. Peirce-Cottler is a past recipient of MIT Technology Review’s “TR100 Young Innovator Award” and the National Biomedical Engineering Society’s “Rita Schaffer Young Investigator Award”. She was recently elected into the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering College of Fellows.


Lisa Peterson

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Lisa Colosi Peterson is an Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Her research pertains to the water-energy nexus, whereby water is required to produce energy, and energy is required to produce water. We seek to develop novel treatment technologies that deliver superior water quality without excessive energy consumption. We are particularly interested in the removal of prescription antibiotics and other antimicrobial agents from treated domestic sewage, with an ultimate goal of slowing the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria (ARB). Municipal wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are key points of entry for antibiotics into the environment, and chronic exposure of downstream microbial populations contributes to the rise of ARB. We have previously demonstrated the capacity of freshwater algae to remove problematic trace organic contaminants (e.g., estrogens and other hormones) from treated WWTP discharges and shown that the treatment can be made net-energy generating, via digestion of the harvested algae biomass to produce methane-derived bio-electricity. We are now evaluating the capacity of this system to remove potent prescription antibiotics (e.g., ciprofloxacin [CIP] and amoxicillin). Initial results are promising; e.g., 93% CIPRO removal in 145 hours, with concomitant reduction in acute antibiotic potency in assays using E. coli. Observed removal is attributed to photo-degradation and bio-degradation. Ongoing and future work will focus on characterizing drug metabolites and assessing the potency of treated wastewaters to stimulate rise of ARB during chronic exposure to model organisms and WWTP-relevant microbial communities. Involvement with the Global Infectious Diseases Institute will allow us the opportunity for collaboration with groups working in complementary research areas as well as enhancing access to resources between labs that may help to further this research.

William Petri

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William A. Petri is the Wade Hampton Frost Professor of Medicine. Dr. Petri has pioneered work on enteric infections and their consequences in children in low income countries. His work on amebiasis is seminal: he identified the Gal/GalNAc-binding lectin of the parasite E. histolytica that mediates contact-dependent killing of host cells, and engineered the genetic tools to validate the lectin’s role in pathogenesis and to develop both diagnostics and a potential vaccine. His latest work in Nature describes the “trogocytosis” (biting) mechanism by which amebae invade tissue. His FDA-approved antigen-detection tests now allow sensitive and specific diagnosis of amebiasis, and his 10-year study of 300 children in Bangladesh identified acquired immunity associated with mucosal IgA anti-lectin immune responses. Dr. Petri further discovered that susceptibility in children to amebiasis is due to a mutation in the leptin receptor, linking nutrition to immunity. Dr. Petri's research additionally includes the pathologic innate immune response to Clostridium difficile and the study of environmental enteropathy and its impact on child health in low income countries. Dr. Petri has mentored 14 PhD students, 20 fellows and 4 visiting professors, many of whom are preeminent Global Infectious Diseases research leaders.

James Platts-Mills

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James Platts-Mills is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health, Department of Medicine. Dr. Platts-Mills’ research focuses on the application of novel quantitative molecular diagnostics for enteropathogens to the epidemiology of enteric diseases in children in developing countries, including 1) revising estimates of pathogen-specific burdens diarrhea; 2) estimating associations between enteropathogen infections, in particular Campylobacter, on long-term growth and development outcomes in children; 3) describing the shifting etiology of diarrhea in settings where rotavirus vaccine has been introduced. This work is done with international collaborators in several countries in African and Asia, including Tanzania, Kenya, The Gambia, Mali, India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Dr. Platts-Mills’ role in particular is to develop and deploy analytic approaches in collaboration with Dr. Eric Houpt for developing diagnostics for enteropathogens. They are also expanding their laboratory scope to include next generation sequencing-based diagnostics, for which they have begun collaboration with the Bioinformatics group.

Rebecca Pompano

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Our lab develops methods based on microfluidic culture systems, bioanalytical techniques, and spatially resolved simulations to quantify the spatiotemporal dynamics of the inflammatory cascade and develop targeted therapies. This work is part of a broad interest in the dynamics of complex biological systems. Specifically, we study the kinetics of immunity and inflammation, and we develop chemically targeted methods to control these processes in the context of vaccination, autoimmunity, and chronic inflammatory disease. Pompano Lab Website

Owen Pornillos

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Owen Pornillos is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics. Dr. Pornillos’ group uses structural biology and biochemistry to study HIV structure and morphogenesis. Two key contributions in this area are structures of the mature HIV capsid, and soon-to-be-published structure of the immature capsid lattice. This work allowed them to define the molecular details of the boundary conditions of HIV maturation, which is a critical step in the viral life cycle and a proven target of anti-HIV/AIDS therapeutics. This is an important step towards the long-term goal of making a “movie” that describes the molecular transformations that drive HIV maturation. Ongoing work explores the mechanism of action of inhibitors, one currently in phase IIb clinical trials, which bind to the immature lattice and prevent the onset of maturation. Another broad area of interest includes the mechanisms by which so-called “pattern recognition receptors” identify and neutralize viral pathogens. Dr. Pornillos has recently defined how a receptor called TRIM5alpha recognizes and disables the incoming capsid of HIV. They are also studying regulatory mechanisms of the RIG-I pathway, which defends the cell against clinically important human pathogens such as influenza virus and dengue virus. This work will therefore contribute to and benefit from the Institute’s goal of enabling trans-disciplinary basic research on globally important infectious diseases.

Phillip Potter

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Philip Potter is an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and director of the National Security Policy Center in the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. His research focuses on foreign policy, international security, and militant violence. He has recently published articles in International Organization, Journal of Politics, International Studies Quarterly, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, and the Annual Review of Political Science, among other journals. His recent book, War and Democratic Constraint (with Matthew Baum), a CHOICE outstanding academic title, is available from Princeton University Press. Professor Potter is a principal investigator for a Minerva Initiative project to map and analyze collaborative relationships between terrorist organizations. He regularly consults for the Department of Defense and intelligence community and is a University Expert for the National Ground Intelligence Center. He is on the editorial boards of the Journal of Politics and the Journal of Global Security Studies, and is an Associate Principal Investigator for Time-Sharing Experiments in the Social Sciences (TESS).