Infectious Disease and Microbiome Science
Infectious diseases are the major causes of death in low-income countries, and emerging infectious diseases threaten countries worldwide. In Arizona, the impact of Valley Fever is widely known and offers a model of success in understanding the biological processes that have shaped the development of novel treatments. Zika, for example, is carried by the type of mosquito that is prevalent in Arizona yet does not carry the disease – which offers an opportunity for intervention to reduce disease. Meanwhile, more is learned every day about the role of the human microbiome (both bacteria and viruses), which has been shown to affect both health and behavior, particularly for diseases that are considered to result from a combination of genes, environment, and lifestyle.
Our interdisciplinary group of UArizona researchers from immunobiology, ecology and evolutionary biology, animal and comparative biomedical sciences, public health, and other areas have significant strengths in this field and are pushing the boundaries of knowledge. For example, through a Flinn Foundation-supported pilot grant, researchers isolated and identified the virome of the human lung in health and infection. Others are leaders in understanding how the gut-brain interface is modulated by bacteria or in modeling the spread of infectious agents. Also, our multidisciplinary BIO5 scholars are collaborating to understand how variation in the mosquitos in Arizona may inform strategies to stop the transmission of Zika and keep Arizona free of this disease, as well as working to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Felicia Goodrum studies human cytomegalovirus (HCMV), a virus that persists in the majority of the population worldwide. Most people are infected as children and never know it because it does not cause any disease or symptoms. Once people are infected, they will carry the virus their whole life through a dormant-like or latent infection. However, latency represents an enormous life-threatening risk for immunocompromised individuals including stem cell or solid organ transplant recipients, AIDS patients and some cancer patient. The virus also presents a huge risk to a developing fetus, being the leading cause of infectious disease-related birth defects.
The implications of her research offer key insights into the lifecycle of the virus and will be very important in considering how we prevent and treat viral infections.