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Unlocking Autoimmunity: Impact of Environmental Pathogen Exposures on Chronic Autoimmune Diseases

Summer 2024

Project Background

The Weller Lab is committed to unraveling the intricate relationship between environmental pathogen exposures and the onset of chronic diseases, specifically Sjogren's disease. This autoimmune disease predominantly affects women and leads to reduced saliva and tear production, inflammation of salivary gland tissues, and the development of autoantibodies. Sjogren's disease is more than a dry eye and dry mouth disease with many patients experiencing significant extra glandular manifestations. Pathogen exposures, combined with genetic predisposition, are believed to be key triggers. Through techniques like viral-genome sequencing, informatics, and in vitro/in vivo model characterization, our lab seeks to understand the viral triggers to develop preventative strategies and targeted treatments.

Student Role

Selected students will dive deep into the characterization of viral profiles, comparing Sjogren's disease patients to healthy individuals. Training will encompass various techniques, from immunohistochemistry and ELISA to RNA-seq analyses. Students will also engage in literature reviews and will contribute to preparations of publications and presentations. Regular group and one-on-one meetings ensure constant communication and guidance throughout the project.

Student Learning Outcomes and Benefits

The primary objective for students participating in this research initiative is to develop a comprehensive understanding of the intricate relationships between environmental pathogen exposures and autoimmune diseases, specifically Sjogren's disease. Through hands-on experience, students will:

1. Technical Skills: Achieve proficiency in advanced laboratory techniques such as immunohistochemistry, ELISA, RNA-seq analyses, and more. This will equip them with practical skills essential for modern biomedical research.

2. Research & Analytical Skills: Delve into the nuances of Sjogren's disease, distinguishing its characteristics and potential underlying mechanisms. This will foster analytical thinking, enhancing their ability to interpret complex biological data.

3. Literature Engagement: Engage in thorough literature reviews, enabling students to contextualize their findings with our current understanding of Sjogren's disease and understand the evolution of knowledge in the field.

4. Communication & Collaboration: Benefit from regular group and one-on-one discussions, facilitating collaborative learning and enhancing their communication skills, both crucial for multidisciplinary research endeavors.

5. Publication & Dissemination: Participate in the drafting and preparation of research findings for publications and presentations, providing firsthand experience of the academic publishing process and scientific communication.

This project promises a holistic learning experience, blending technical and analytical skills, and preparing students for advanced research roles and future academic pursuits.

Melodie Weller

Assistant Professor

Research Interests

  • Virology
  • Autoimmune Diseases
  • Oral Health
  • Infectious Disease
  • Infectious Disease Surveillance

My mentoring philosophy is collaborative work and communication for the advancement of science. The student will work closely with the research team and I to receive training in basic laboratory techniques and will gain independence while conducting assigned project experiments. My lab is welcoming and friendly and we are always willing to take the opportunity to teach and answer questions. Beyond daily interaction and communication with the research team, weekly group meetings and individual meetings with me will be held to discuss projects, outline assays to be performed, trouble-shoot issues that arise and gain feedback on progress. This experience will set the student up for the advancement towards their future goals like graduate school and I am happy to guide and answer questions regarding these goals.