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What We Do

The global prevalence of soil transmitted helminth infections is currently estimated at two billion individuals, making helminths one of the most common infectious agents in the world. Helminths have infected humans since the earliest recorded history and as a result they have coevolved with the human immune system for millennia. In fact, helminth parasites have even been identified in ancient mummified remains.

Similar to commensal bacteria, the coevolution of helminths and humans has resulted in a complicated relationship that is capable of promoting negative and beneficial effects. For example, when administered at controlled doses, helminths can prevent the development of inflammatory disease states and have been used therapeutically to treat irritable bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and even allergies. Therefore, helminths can operate as mutualistic symbionts that represent an important component of the human ‘macrobiome’ (protozoa, bacteria and viruses) that provided the evolutionary pressure under which the mammalian immune system developed. Despite their obvious clinical and scientific importance, helminth infections remain understudied and as a result our basic understanding of host-parasite interactions are poorly defined. The central focus of our lab is to better understand how the host’s immune system senses helminth pathogens and the mechanism through which those sensory mechanisms instruct mammalian immune cell development and activation.

The human immune system is capable of initiating several types of responses to protect us from specific infectious threats. Included among these are the Type 1 and Type 2 responses. The Type 1 response is generally initiated when a viral or bacterial threat is encountered while the Type 2 response functions to combat helminth infections but is also responsible for the inflammation associated with allergies and asthma. The goal of our laboratory is to develop a better understanding of the factors that control the initiation and magnitude of Type 2 inflammatory responses. Developing a better understanding of how the Type 2 response is regulated will allow us to identify novel strategies to treat helminth infection and other inflammatory disease such as allergies and asthma.