Projects

1. Synergistic effects of essential oils and antibiotics on overcoming antibiotic resistance in Staphylococcus aureus.

Antibiotic resistant Staphylococcus aureus, such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA), are a major public health problem throughout the United States.  Previous studies in the laboratory examined the colonization rate of S. aureus in medical students at LECOM utilizing molecular, epidemiological, and microbiological experiments.  Ongoing studies, including Masters Thesis projects, are determining if essential plant oils, such as cinnamon cassia oil, can overcome antibiotic resistance in S. aureus isolates.  Previous projects have examined the synergistic effect of cinnamon cassia oil and erythromycin on erythromycin-resistant S. aureus, and current projects are examining the synergistic effect of various oils, including oregano oil and red thyme oil, and oxacillin on inhibiting growth of MRSA.  These projects are in collaboration with Dr. Nancy Carty at LECOM.

 

2. Frequency and Distribution of tick-borne diseases in Ixodes scapularis and Dermacentor variabilis ticks found in Erie County, Pennsylvania

The major focus of this project is to determine the prevalence of Borrelia burgdorferi and Babesia microti infection in Ixodes scapularis (black-legged) ticks, formerly known as Ixodes dammini (deer) ticks, and Dermacentor variabilis (dog) ticks and the risk of infection in human populations.  Ixodes scapularis transmits both the bacterium that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, and the parasite, B. microti, which causes human babesiosis.  Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States, and our recent studies show that greater than 50% of ticks collected throughout Erie County carry B. burgdorferi.  The initial symptoms of Lyme disease include flu-like symptoms and a bulls-eye rash, and chronic symptoms can involve the joints, heart, and brain.  Babesiosis manifests as fever and chills with accompanying fatigue and muscle pain.  Because the parasite infects red blood cells, anemia is often a complication of infection.  While babesiosis is not often associated with severe complications in specific populations, such as the elderly and immunocompromised individuals, the infection can be serious and even fatal.  Completed and current studies are being conducted on Presque Isle State Park to ascertain the prevalence of B. burgdorferi- and B. microti-infected ticks with follow-up studies conducted in all of Erie County that will include screening for the presence of B. burgdorferi and B. microti, and other co-infections such as Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Rickettsia rickettsii.  These studies involve collaborations between the Laboratories of Human Pathogens and the Erie County Department of Health.

 

3. Public Health Projects

Public Health projects in the laboratory have examined primary care physician awareness and perception of Lyme disease in Erie County and, separately, risk groups for contracting sexually transmitted infections.  In addition, a Paul Ambrose Scholar-sponsored project in the laboratory involves determining the impact of oral health care on academic performance in school-aged children.

 

4. Immunopathogenesis of Severe Malarial Anemia

Through collaborations with the Laboratories of Tropical Diseases at the University of New Mexico, this project investigates mechanisms of immune dysregulation during severe childhood malaria.  Malaria is an endemic disease in many tropical areas of the world and is estimated to cause 1-3 million deaths every year, mainly in children less than five years of age.  Human malaria is caused by four species of Plasmodium, of which P. falciparum accounts for the most severe clinical manifestations, particularly severe anemia in children.  Malaria parasites infect red blood cells and digest hemoglobin, releasing free heme.  Heme, however, is toxic to Plasmodium; therefore, the parasites polymerize free heme into a compound called hemozoin.  When monocytes ingest hemozoin, this parasitic product has a detrimental impact on the immune response to malaria.  Specific projects examine dysregulation of immune mediator production elicited by phagocytosis of hemozoin by human mononuclear cells.  In addition, the project examines the influence of host single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in immunoregulatory genes on malaria disease outcomes.  More information on the University of New Mexico-headed investigations can be found at: http://hsc.unm.edu/som/medicine/id/tropical/publications.shtml.


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