SPUR 2021 Projects: Dentistry

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school of dentistry


THE ROLE OF CHRONIC VIRAL EXPOSURES IN AUTOIMMUNITY

Melodie Weller, Assistant Professor

Chronic environmental pathogen exposures are potential triggers in the development of autoimmune diseases. The Weller Lab studies the role of select environmental exposures in the development of a chronic autoimmune disease called Sjogren's syndrome. This female-predominant autoimmune disease affects 1-4 million people in the United States and is characterized by decreased saliva and tear production, inflammation in the salivary gland tissues and development of autoantibodies. Low-level, chronic viral exposures in connection with genetic susceptibility factors contribute to the underlying mechanisms of this chronic autoimmune disease. The Weller Lab has focused on further characterizing viral signatures and identifying routes of exposure in Sjogren’s syndrome patients. Projects in the lab utilize viral-genome sequencing, microarray gene expression analysis, bioinformatics, infectious disease epidemiology, immunohistochemistry and cell culture to further define the role of chronic viral exposures in the development of autoimmunity. Ultimately, our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of viral-mediated triggers of Sjogren's syndrome to 1) identify routes of pathogen exposure, 2) further define mechanisms supporting viral persistence and 3) develop targeted therapeutics.

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