Medical Microbiology and Immunology

2019 News and Awards

MMI University of Toledo 2019-2020 Graduate Research Awardees

Congratulations to Gayatri Subramanian!

Gayatri Subramanian
, PhD candidate in the laboratory of Dr. Saurabh Chattopadhyay, Assistant Professor, in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, was recently awarded the University of Toledo 2019-2020 Graduate Research Award.  This UToledo Graduate Student Association (GSA) Graduate Research Award will provide $2,000 towards Gayatri’s research project that focuses on understanding how herpes simplex virus – 1 (HSV-1), a major human pathogen, hijacks host proteins to its benefit. Current approach to address this question is by using cellular and molecular techniques, such as genetic and pharmacological inhibition of the host protein, which HSV-1 depends on. The target protein was identified in the process of understanding the antiviral mechanisms of a novel interferon stimulated gene (ISG), Tudor domain containing protein 7 (Subramanian et al, PLoS Pathogens, 2018). The GSA award will help investigate the molecular mechanisms of this novel host-virus interaction.

Congratulations to Brenden Tully!
Brenden Tully
Brenden Tully
, MSBS student in Dr. Jason Huntley’s lab in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, recently was awarded the University of Toledo 2019-2020 Graduate Research Award.  This UToledo Graduate Student Association (GSA) Graduate Research Award will provide $2,000 towards Mr. Tully’s research project to study how the highly-infectious and deadly bacterium, Francisella tularensis – the causative agent of tularemia, infects different U.S. tick species and identify which tick species poses the greatest risk to human health.  Climate change has led to significant expansion of the geographic ranges of different tick species in the U.S.  Ticks are known to harbor and transmit dozens of infectious diseases to humans, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and tularemia.  Two ticks, the American dog tick and the Lone Star tick, are believed to be the primary tick vectors for tularemia but actual data is severely lacking.  Mr. Tully has developed a mouse-tick-F. tularensis infection model to naturally infect both American dog ticks and Lone Star ticks ticks with F. tularensis, examine bacterial replication in each tick, and test transmission efficiency of infected ticks to naïve mice.

MMI researcher collaborates with others from across UToledo on $830,000 R01 grant

Dr. Stepkowski and Group
Pictured from left, Michael Sloma (BS student in Computer Science & Engineering), Dr. Stanislaw Stepkowski (Professor, Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology), Dr. Kevin Xu (Assistant Professor, Electrical Engineering & Computer Science Department), Dr. Dulat Bekbolsynov (Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Medical Microbiology & Immunology), Mohammadreza Nemati (MS student in Computer Science & Engineering), Dr. Tian Chen (Assistant professor, Department of Mathematics & Statistics), and Zhipeng Huang (PhD student in Computer Science & Engineering)

Dr. Stanislaw Stepkowski, professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and his colleagues from across UToledo, Dr. Kevin Xu in Electrical Engineering and Dr. Tian Chen in Mathematics, have been awarded an $830,000 (direct and indirect cost) 3-year RO1 grant from a joint NSF/NIH program, entitled “Machine learning and network science approaches for prediction of kidney transplant survival.”

Chronic kidney diseases affect about 10% of adults in the United States, often leading to kidney failure that is called end-stage renal disease (ESRD). For patients with ESRD, kidney transplantation is the best treatment compared to dialysis in terms of patient survival, quality of life, and cost. Unfortunately, most patients with ESRD remain on dialysis primarily because of insufficient number of donors. This shortage of kidneys is further complicated by the fact that the average kidney graft survival is only 10 years for grafts from deceased donors and only 12 years from living donors. Patients who lose their kidney transplants are listed again on the waiting list.

The human leukocyte antigens (HLAs) of the organ donor and recipient are known to be a significant contributing factor to graft survival times due to HLA immunogenicity. Seminal work documented that kidney transplant survival is the best without mismatched HLA-A/B/DR antigens and the worst with all six mismatched HLA-A/B/DR antigens (three from father and three from mother). However, preliminary analysis showed that the number of mismatches is as important as the quality of mismatches.

Consequently, their research plan is to use the power of machine learning in predicting the impact of each of the unique mismatches on kidney allograft survival. Some of these unique donor/recipient HLA mismatches are associated with short graft survival times whereas other mismatches are associated with long graft survival times. The intention is to use machine learning capabilities to predict the potential for extended graft survivals for multiple mismatches, based on similarities. Overall approach is to design and integrate new algorithms ─ based on past graft survival data analyses ─ to predict the impact of each unique HLA disparity for every possible donor/recipient combination. Accurate prediction of graft survival times can improve patient transplant outcomes by enabling more efficient allocation of donors and recipients, particularly by reducing the number of re-transplants due to graft failure caused by a poorly matched donor.


MMI faculty member serves on advisory committee for international conference in Canada
Dr. Matson
Dr. Jyl Matson, assistant professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology (pictured in the back row, far right), recently joined the International Science Advisory Committee for the International Conference on the Biology of Vibrios (ICBV).   The 8th meeting of this biennial conference, also known as “Vibrio 2019,” was held at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.   Members of the International Science Advisory Committee assist in organizing the scientific program of the conference and serving as judges for student awards. Dr. Matson also served as chair of the session on Vibrio physiology.

More than 2,000 students at The University of Toledo graduated at commencement ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 14, in Savage Arena, including our own Jin and Bri!  Congratulations, again!
Jin and Bri
Briana Zellner, Ph.D. and Jin Chen, Ph.D.

Jin Chen, Ph.D.
Jin Chen
December 4, 2019
Jin Chen successfully defended her dissertation titled: "Role of Complement Regulatory Protein Properdin in Hemolytic Anemias Caused by Complement Dysregulation".
Advisor: Viviana Ferreira, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Future Plans: Jin plans to move on to postdoctoral studies at the Cleveland Clinic
Celebration GroupLab Group

Briana Zellner, Ph.D.
Bri Zellner
November 26, 2019
Briana Zellner successfully defended her dissertation titled: "Characterization of a novel Francisella tularensis virulence factor involved in cell wall repair".
Advisor: Jason Huntley, Ph.D.
Future Plans:  Bri plans to pursue a government postdoctoral position in the area of biodefense.


In October, Dr. Saurabh Chattopadhyay, Assistant Professor, and his graduate students Anna Glanz (MSBS student) and Gayatri Subramanian (PhD student) attended the 1st Midwest Virology Symposium held at Ohio State University, Columbus.  Anna presented a poster titled "Novel regulators of IRF3-mediated antiviral apoptotic pathway" which was selected for a 1-minute flash talk and Gayatri presented a poster "Interferon-inducible protein TDRD7 inhibits the autophagy-initiating kinase, AMPK to inhibit virus replication" which was selected for a short talk. Both students received a travel award for their respective presentations.

Dr. Chattopadhyay Lab Group Chattopadhyay Lab Group Dinner

The symposium was also attended by Dr. Travis Taylor, Assistant Professor, MMI, and Dr. Malathi Krishnamurthy, Associate Professor, the Department of Biological Sciences, UT-Main Campus. Graduate students from the laboratories of Dr. Krishnamurthy and Dr. Scott Leisner, Chairman, the Department of Biological Sciences, also presented their research at the symposium.


Nucelic Acids ResearchDr. Blumenthal

Dr. Bob Blumenthal, Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and Director of the Program in Bioinformatics, has the cover article in a recent issue of the journal Nucleic Acids Research (impact factor 11.1) in September. It is his third cover article for that journal, all of them with his long-time collaborator, x-ray crystallographer Dr. Xiaodong Cheng (currently at M.D. Anderson in Houston). The article is titled Structural basis for preferential binding of human TCF4 to DNA containing 5-carboxylcytosine. TCF4 is a transcription factor, and certain mutations in its gene are associated with schizophrenia or Pitt-Hopkins syndrome. Dr. Blumenthal is interested in DNA methylation, and 5-carboxylcytosine is a modified DNA base resulting from enzymatic oxidation of 5-methylcytosine.
The article is available here:

the huntley lab was recognized for their contribution to fighting harmful algal blooms

Click Here to learn more about the UToledo researchers working on protecting Toledo's drinking water.

Dept. of Medical Microbiology and Immunology
hosts nationally-recognized conference

Drs. Huntley and Wooten
The Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology recently hosted the Midwest Microbial Pathogenesis Conference (MMPC) at the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Toledo on September 20-22, 2019.

Drs. Jason Huntley and R. Mark Wooten served as co-chairs for MMPC. Nearly 300 physicians and scientists from across the country met in Toledo for three days to present and discuss cutting-edge research on ways to prevent and treat infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoal pathogens.
This was the 26th annual MMPC, which is nationally-recognized for promoting the development of young investigators in the Midwest U.S. into the next generation of research scientists by inviting newly-hired Assistant Professors, postdocs, and graduate students to present their latest research findings. MMPC featured 27 research presentations by invited speakers, 157 poster presentations, an interactive career panel, and a keynote presentation by Dr. Peggy Cotter, Professor and Associate Chair of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill School of Medicine.
Briana Zellner and Alex McCartney
During the poster session, graduate students Briana Zellner and Alex McCartney,
both in Dr. Huntley's lab, explain their posters to MMPC participants.

Congratulations to Apurva Ladlead author on an article about microcystin toxin in the lab of Drs. Kennedy and Haller (UT News 9/19/19).
"Chronic Low Dose Oral Exposure to Microcystin-LR Exacerbates Hepatic Injury in a Murine Model of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease" in Toxins

Apurva Lad

2019 COMLS Faculty and Staff Recognition Dinner

Congratulations to Dr. Ferreira for 10 Years of Service!
Dr. Ferreira
Viviana Ferreira, D.V.M, Ph.D.

2019 Lab Coat Ceremony Students
Click for 2019 Lab Coat Ceremony Photos

Congratulations to Brianna Zellner on her Toledo Blade article, "Recognizing tularemia could one day save your life" published on 8/5/2019.
Brianna Zellner

Congratulations to Dr. Viviana Ferreira who was awarded the 2019 University of Toledo Research and Sponsored Programs URFO Award for Biomedical Research Innovation Program for "Understanding the Molecular Mechanisms by Which Factor H Protects Trypanosoma Cruzi from Killing by the Complement System"

Muhammed Saad Moledina, Ph.D.
Saad Moledina
July 22, 2019
Saad Moledina successfully defended his dissertation titled: "Role of Bb-elicited IL-10 in Suppression of Innate Immune Responses within Murine Skin Tissue".
Advisor: R. Mark Wooten, Ph.D.
Future Plans:
Clinical Research Associate, Medpace, Inc.

Cara Peter, M.S.
Cara Peter
July 18, 2019
Cara Peter successfully defended her thesis titled: "The Role of 14-3-3ζ in IL-17A Signaling".
Advisor: Ritu Chakravarti, Ph.D.
Future Plans:
Cara plans to return to Seattle, WA

Cara DeAngelis, Ph.D.
Cara DeAngelis
April 26, 2019
Cara DeAngelis successfully defended her dissertation titled: "Characterization of the Vibrio cholerae phage shock protein response".

Advisor: Jyl Matson, Ph.D.
Future Plans:
Postdoc at the Rocky Mountain Labs

 Congratulations to the Huntley lab who was featured on the local news in April 2019 for their research on the algal bloom.

Huntley’s research lab recently made major progress in his mission to create a biofilter that uses naturally occurring Lake Erie bacteria to remove microcystin released by harmful algal blooms from drinking water, reducing or eliminating the use of chlorine and other chemicals.

Congratulations to Gayatri Subramanian, contributing author on an article about gene therapy in the lab of Dr. Chattopadhyay (April 2019).
"Gene Therapy Leaves a Vicious Cycle" in Frontiers in Oncology

 Claire Meikle, Ph.D.
Claire Meikle
March 28, 2019
Claire Meikle successfully defended her dissertation titled, "Platelet-Leukocyte Aggregation in Lung Cancer Patients".
Advisor: Randall Worth, Ph.D.
Future Plans:

Claire plans to complete medical school and apply to internal medicine residency programs.

Congratulations to Gayatri Subramanian on her Toledo Blade article, "Battling the cause, not the symptoms, of viruses" published on 3/2/2019.


Congratulations to Hallie Dolinlead author on an article about sepsis in the lab of Dr. Kevin Pan (January 2019).
"Characterization of Pathogenic Sepsis Etiologies and Patient Profiles: A Novel Approach to Triage and Treatment" in Microbial Insights.

Hallie Dolin


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