COBRE Project - Scientific Opportunities

Thematic Focus on Infection, Inflammation and Disease:  The overarching research theme for this COBRE is the study of the immunobiology of chronic inflammation, the “silent killer” (Time Magazine 2011), and its role in the development of disease. The central hypothesis is that chronic inflammation is the result of a dysfunctional immune response to an offending agent, resulting in tissue damage instead of host protection. The unifying scientific goal of these projects has been and continues to be the understanding of the molecular mechanisms that lead to the development of a chronic inflammatory response and its role in promoting and sustaining disease. The results of this work will help develop novel diagnostic tools, and new approaches to prevent or treat disease. In addition, our work has uncovered differences in the genetic mechanisms that regulate these inflammatory processes among the various racial groups providing biological mechanisms that may contribute to health disparities in chronic disease, a major public health problem in our region.

Chronic inflammation is associated with multiple diseases, including cardiovascular disease, neurological diseases, diabetes, chronic infections and cancer. However, in an effort to maintain the focus of our work and to ensure appropriate mentorship for PJIs, we will study the role of chronic inflammation in chronic infections associated with the development of cancer, and the role of these inflammatory cells in initiating and promoting the growth and metastases of malignant cells. Specific opportunities for research include understanding the inflammatory response to chronic infections such as HPV, EBV infection that are major drivers of malignant transformation especially in the context of HIV infection. This is highly significant given the high incidence of HIV infection in our region with Baton Rouge and New Orleans occupying the first and fourth cities in the United States in this category. We also will continue to study the inflammatory cells in the tumor microenvironment, in particular the myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSC) which promote and maintain tumor growth. In addition, we will continue to study pro-inflammatory conditions such as obesity and its effect on hormone-dependent tumors including luminal breast cancer, ovarian and prostate cancers. These areas of research are also important given the high mortality by cancer in the minority population, and the high prevalence of obesity and metabolic syndrome in Louisiana. These unfortunate characteristics increase the importance of deciphering the molecular mechanisms that trigger and perpetuate the chronic inflammatory processes in these conditions. The results obtained from this work could help develop early diagnostic or prognostic markers, and may suggest preventive or therapeutic approaches that decrease the health impact of chronic inflammation and the diseases it promotes, particularly in populations that are more vulnerable.