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Michelle Parent
Medical Technology

What are your general research interests?

My research interests are focused within microbiology and immunology; specifically my laboratory studies immunity to bacterial infections.

What are your current projects and how are they funded?

Currently, I have two research projects both investigating immunity to infection; however, one project is basic research while the other project is more of an applied project.

The basic research project studies the host response to Vibrio parahaemolyticus gastrointestinal infection, which is the native route of infection. The work is funded by the USDA National Research Initiative Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (NRI/AFRI). Here, we have developed a new murine gastrointestinal model of infection. Using antibiotic pre-treatment of the murine host, we have established infection with V. parahaemolyticus over an extended period of time, and documented immune pathology in the presence of infecting organisms.

Our applied research project evaluates a novel Yersinia pestis F1 and LcrV vaccine. This project, in collaboration with and funded by Fraunhofer USA, is evaluating a novel Y pestis F1-LicKM and LcrV-LicKM-alhydrogel vaccination regimen determining if this protects against lethal intranasal Yersinia infection. Fraunhofer has developed this Yersinia pestis F1 and LcrV, lichenase (LicKM) protein fusion, a thermostable enzyme of Clostridium thermocellum. Currently, we are studying vaccine mediated protection determining the role of B cells and T cells in this protection.

Who are your collaborators on these projects?

  • Vibrio parahaemolyticus collaboration with Prof. Fidelma Boyd, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Delaware.
  • Yersinia pestis collaboration with Fraunhofer USA Center for Molecular Biotechnology, Newark Del., with immunologist Jessica Chichester.

What are the likely “next steps” in your work?

As we have just recently developed the Vibrio parahaemolyticus gastrointestinal infection model, we are beginning to study immune-pathology by investigating the first few days after infection determining the cytokine/chemokine milieu and early host response.

As for our vaccination project, we have determined that antibodies protect against infection. Additionally, we have recently detected vaccine-generated CD4 T cell mediated protection and will be investigating this T cell mediated protection.

Michelle Parent, medical Technology

How would you describe your work’s importance to an interested lay audience?

Vibrio parahaemolyticus is the most common cause of seafood-related illness in the United States. Infections with this isolate, for those with chronic-medical conditions, can progress to systemic infection leading to death. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that 20% of the population has chronic-medical conditions; however, it is unknown how many of these individuals are at risk of V. parahaemolyticus exposure. Additionally, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports a 115% percent increase in laboratory-confirmed cases for Vibrio species in 2011 compared to 1996-1998 surveillance data, with an increase of 39% just since 2010.

Moreover, infections with this pathogen are thought to be grossly underreported. Despite increases in ocean water temperatures leading to increased Vibrio growth, there is a lack of screening for Vibrio sp., which, with an aging and ill population, will lead to probable increases in infection. Most problematically, there is an absence of literature characterizing host immunity to infection. Toward that end, using our newly developed murine model of infection, we will begin investigate and understand the hosts’ ability to eliminate infection, providing a mechanism by which treatment algorithms can be developed to help eliminate infection in high-risk chronically ill individuals.

Y. pestis has been classified as a Category A select agent of bioterrorism by the CDC. These organisms are easily disseminated or transmitted person-to-person and are associated with high mortality, with the potential to result in a major public health crisis. Currently no vaccine is available to protect the population against the pneumonic form of Y. pestis infection. Therefore, there is a significant need for the development of a vaccine that can protect the general population against this infectious organism and possible epidemics.

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