Infectious Diseases - Introduction

Studying disease-causing microbes and finding ways to thwart them

Advances in genomics are revolutionizing infectious disease research, with sequencing speed reaching the point at which scientists can apply genomics to disease outbreaks as they occur.

IGS investigators are at the cutting edge of that research, using the latest technologies to study pathogens, and shed new light on infectious diseases. Genomics is helping scientists develop diagnostic tests, understand how pathogens evolve, and identify targets for drugs and vaccines. In addition to their genomics expertise, many of the IGS researchers have backgrounds in microbiology, infectious disease, and/or epidemiology, and are primary faculty in those departments at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Single celled eukaryotic parasites and multi-cellular pathogens

Using a combination of population genomics, parasitology, immunology and bioinformatics, IGS researchers are studying several protists - including the causative agents of malaria, babesiosis, East Coast fever and cryptosporidiosis (J. Carneiro da Silva research) - with the goal of identifying genes responsible for drug resistance or vaccine evasion. Similarly, they are analyzing the whole transcriptome of Candida albicans (V. Bruno, J. Schwartz research), the major invasive fungal pathogen of humans, as it interacts with host cells to understand the molecular mechanisms of pathogenesis. In a different study design, IGS researchers are identifying bacterial genes horizontally transferred to the chromosomes of filarial nematodes, which cause lymphatic filariasis and river blindness (J. Dunning-Hotopp research), to identify novel pathogen-specific drug targets.

Bacterial pathogens

Dr. David Rasko - E. coli outbreak in Germany

IGS scientists are conducting extensive analyses of Escherichia coli and Shigella species, the major bacterial pathogens that contribute to diarrheal disease, including recent outbreaks. Those projects add the power of genomics and transcriptomics to epidemiological studies to identify molecular markers for lethal diarrheal isolates, emerging groups of pathogens and to elucidate their population structure.

Other IGS research projects on bacterial comparative genomics, transcriptomics, evolution and host-pathogen interactions focus on a diverse array of pathogens causing meningitis (Neisseria meningitidis) (J. Dunning-Hotopp research), plague (Yersinia pestis) (H. Tettelin research), pneumonia, otitis media and strep throat (Streptococcus pneumoniae and other streptococci) (H. Tettelin research), cholera (Vibrio cholerae) (J. Ravel research), typhoid fever (Salmonella enterica serovar Typhi) (H. Tettelin research), non-typhoidal Salmonella infections (W.F. Fricke research), gastritis (Helicobacter pylori) (W.F. Fricke research), Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdoferi) (research of C. Fraser and E. Mongodin), hospital acquired infections (Staphylococcus aureus) (E. Mongodin research), mucosal infections (Chlamydia sp.)(J. Ravel and G. Myers research), colitis (Clostridium difficile) (research of W.F. Fricke and D. Rasko), pulmonary infections (Mycobacterium abscessus) (H. Tettelin research), and more.

Viral pathogens

IGS scientists are investigating the diversity and evolution of the human rhinovirus (HRV), which causes the common cold. They are trying to find out if there are specific strains, clades, or sequence motifs in the virus that are related to the intensity of the respiratory disease. To that end, IGS is sequencing and analyzing about 3,000 HRV isolates from children during several seasons of the common cold. (research of C. Fraser). Investigating viral replication and host responses is important for understanding and controlling these major pathogens. To this end, IGS scientists are measuring the global transcriptional response of human lung epithelial cells to infections by paramyxoviruses (through GSCID projects). They are also assessing the in vivo variation of a candidate lassa fever virus vaccine strain, a zoonotic pathogen that infects rodents but is sometimes transmitted to humans, where is it often fatal (G. Myers research).

Metagenomics

In addition to genome sequencing projects targeting specific pathogenic species, IGS researchers also are exploring the human microbiome in the context of infectious diseases through the application of metagenomics.

Clinical trials

Furthermore, the Institute is strategically positioned within a hub with internationally renowned infectious diseases research centers at the medical school - the Center for Vaccine Development and the Institute for Human Virology. This close proximity is fueling large-scale collaborative research to address the challenges posed by global infectious diseases.