I have always been interested in science — beginning with fossil hunting and bird watching with my father, a scientist involved in multiple fields of study. In graduate school, I fell in love with X-ray crystallography. This technique allows us to “zoom in” to see protein structures in atomic detail, almost as if you could enlarge a protein sufficiently to hold it between your hands and stare at it.
My lab uses the tools and techniques of structural biology and biophysical chemistry to understand the function of proteins involved in microbial pathogenesis and host immune response. We are particularly interested in the molecular mechanisms underlying the formation of staphylococcal biofilms, which are specialized colonies of bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics or immune responses. We are also studying several immune pathways involving antibody-receptor interactions, immune signaling and immune trafficking.
Our broad goals are to understand how key proteins function to either promote infection by pathogens, such as staphylococcus bacteria, or how they facilitate the host's immune responses to a pathogen. We are always interested in using these insights to develop novel therapeutic agents.
My lab discovered the mechanism by which staphylococcal bacteria stick to one another in a biofilm. They have long, filament-like proteins that become sticky in the presence of zinc ions, creating twisted rope-like structures between the cells. We found that by removing the available zinc ions with a chelator, we could inhibit biofilm growth. This discovery led to the development of a novel antimicrobial platform that is entering clinical trials later this year.
In 2014, I was awarded the Emerging Entrepreneurial Achievement Award from the University of Cincinnati. This award was based on our work to develop and commercialize the BioLexa antimicrobial platform. I have been a researcher for more than 17 years, and I began my work at Cincinnati Children's in 2014.