Infectious Disease Research Opportunities

The Pediatric Infectious Diseases program will support and foster the research experience for the trainee. In addition to the research laboratories of members of the Division of Infectious Disease, the trainee will have access to mentors from a variety of other departments at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Early in their training, fellows are given the opportunity to explore different laboratories in order to identify appropriate mentors and, through them, worthwhile projects for research. Once a primary mentor has been identified, the fellow organizes his own specific research mentoring committee, including at least one faculty member not directly involved with ongoing research. Meeting with this committee at least twice a year, the fellow provides regular progress reports, which lead to immediate feedback on the direction of research. In addition, these mentoring committees aid the fellow by offering suggestions for other related experimental research techniques that may prove useful in the fellow’s project. In addition to mentored research projects, fellows have the opportunity to take classes in epidemiology, statistics and related subjects through the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Pittsburgh. 

Carolyn Coyne, PhD
Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

Our laboratory studies the pathways by which viruses cross cellular barriers and the mechanisms by which these barriers restrict viral infections. Research primarily focuses on the polarized epithelium that lines the gastrointestinal tract and placental trophoblasts, which comprise the primary cellular barrier of the human placenta. In addition to studying cellular barriers, the Coyne Lab focuses on delineating the pathways targeted by RNA viruses (such as enteroviruses and flaviviruses) to promote their replication and spread. The work is highly multidisciplinary and encompasses aspects of cell biology, tissue engineering, immunology, and microbiology.

Will DePas, PhD
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

My lab is focused on developing a clear picture of the biogeography of infection sites, determining how spatial structure impacts bacterial activity and interactions with host cells, and recapitulating important aspects of the infection environment in vitro in order to gain an in-depth understanding of cellular processes that are relevant to pathogenesis. To achieve these goals, we utilize advanced microscopy techniques. We are chiefly interested in nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), emerging pathogens that are particularly problematic for patients with cystic fibrosis. By applying our described methodology, we are working to determine the context in which NTM form biofilms during infection and how biofilm formation contributes to disease severity.

Terry Dermody, MD
Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

Research in the Dermody lab has encompassed several inter-related themes including the structural basis of viral attachment and cell entry; mechanisms of genome replication and packaging; patterns of cell signaling and gene expression occurring in response to viral infection; mechanisms of virus-induced apoptosis and its significance in the viral life cycle; and the role of viral receptor distribution and utilization in disease pathology. The lab also is developing viral vectors for oncolytic and vaccine applications.

Michael D. Green, MD, MPH
Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interest:

A major focus of my research is the study of infectious complications in children undergoing solid organ transplantation. This includes the timing and patterns of infections in pediatric transplant recipients, optimal management, and potential preventive strategies. I have had a particular interest in studying Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which can cause a wide range of diseases in transplant recipients from uncomplicated febrile illness to life-threatening post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease. These studies have included efforts to improve strategies for the diagnosis, management, and prevention of EBV disease in this population. Recent work has focused on understanding the meaning and measurement of the EBV viral load in the peripheral blood and the utility of this load to predict and follow the course of EBV-related clinical disease. Other opportunistic infections of interest include adenovirus, norovirus, and cytomegalovirus. Other areas of my research include antimicrobial resistance, antimicrobial stewardship, and Infection Prevention.

Tim Hand, PhD
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

Our laboratory studies the interaction between the commensal microbiota and the immune system in the gastrointestinal tract. In particular we focus on how perturbations in the environment, such as enteric infections or changes in diet, may affect this crucial relationship. The hope is that these studies will lead to critical insights into the development of important pediatric autoinflammatory diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and environmental enteropathy.

Melissa Kane, PhD
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

The central focus of the Kane Lab is understanding the genetic and immunological basis for protective antiviral immune responses, as well as the molecular details underlying the direct inhibition of retroviral replication by restriction factors. We utilize both in vitro and in vivo tools to investigate intrinsic, innate, and adaptive immune responses to retroviral infection. Our research is centered around three questions: 1) What allows some individuals to restrict or control retroviral replication? 2) How do retroviruses counteract host defenses? 3) What are the features of successful anti-retroviral immune responses?

Philana Ling Lin, MD, MSC
Associate Professor, Pediatrics
Fellowship Director
Research Interest:

My research focuses on the host immune response to Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the non-human primate model. Using this model, active disease and latent infection can be easily established in a way that mimics the human host. Specifically, we are interested in immunologic factors that control form and function of lung granulomas, the histopathologic hallmark of tuberculosis. We are working to understand what cellular and cytokine functions may be important in maintaining control of latent infection and, therefore, prevention of reactivation disease. My other interest in research includes the changing epidemiology of invasive pneumococcal disease in pediatric immune compromised patients.

Anita McElroy, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

Our lab studies viral hemorrhagic fevers (VHF) such as Ebola, Lassa, and Rift Valley fever virus (RVFV) and Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus (CCHFV). Our goal is to understand how the VHF’s make people sick so that we can design therapies that will improve patient outcomes. We use primarily derived human samples to try to understand the pathophysiology of disease. Since access to primary human samples can be difficult, we also use animal models. We have used the mouse model of RVFV to demonstrate that CD4+ T cells are important for preventing viral encephalitis, which is a known complication of RVFV disease in humans.

Andrew Nowalk, MD, PhD
Associate Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interest:

My research interests are focused on clinical investigation of Lyme disease, as Western Pennsylvania has experienced a dramatic increase in this infection over the last decade. My clinical research interests center around the challenge of managing children with chronic intestinal insufficiency and frequent central venous catheter infection. I am interested both in therapeutic approaches to these catheter-associated infections (antibiotic lock, probiotics, etc.) as well the molecular epidemiology of gram-negative bacterial infections in these patients. 

Marian G. Michaels, MD, MPH
Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

My research focuses on clinical investigation of pediatric infections. I have long been involved in the study of infections in immunocompromised hosts, especially cytomegalovirus and other infections specific to the thoracic organ transplant population. Recent work includes clinical studies of fungal infections; community acquired respiratory and enteric infections; preventive strategies for influenza; and vaccinations in the immunocompromised host. Another major research area is congenital cytomegalovirus, in particular natural history, pathogenesis, and potential interventions in these infants. I am actively involved in longitudinal multicenter natural history studies and treatment trials.

Laurie Silva, PhD
Assistant Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

Chikungunya virus (CHIKV) is an emerging, mosquito-borne alphavirus that causes an acute febrile illness called chikungunya fever characterized by a maculopapular rash and incapacitating arthralgia. Acute disease can evolve into chronic arthritis in a substantial subset of patients, with symptoms persisting for months to years. The research in my lab centers on virus-host interactions required for CHIKV to initiate and complete its replication cycle within cells and establish infection within a host. Using a multidisciplinary approach, we are investigating mechanisms of CHIKV cell entry, replication, and pathogenesis, with the goal of better understanding the viral and host factors that dictate CHIKV virulence, which will inform strategies for the development of antiviral therapeutics and vaccines.

John Williams, MD
Professor, Pediatrics
Research Interests:

The focus of my research is the basic and clinical investigation of respiratory viruses. Our major area of investigation is the immunity and pathogenesis of human metapneumovirus (HMPV), a leading cause of acute lower respiratory illness in infants and children. We use mouse models to study in vivo pathogenesis and immunity to HMPV. We discovered that HMPV and other acute respiratory viral infections cause impairment of lung CD8+ T cells via PD-1 signaling, a pathway previously associated with chronic infections and cancer. We have active research projects focused on mechanisms by which HMPV and other respiratory viruses lead to impaired pulmonary CD8+ T cells, HMPV inhibition of type I interferon responses, and human T cell responses to HMPV.