Research

The Department of Pathobiology has numerous active research programs involving faculty members, graduate students, and staff members. The departmental research programs deal with several pathologic aspects of infectious and chronic diseases of both human and animals.

Major research programs, and investigators are listed below:

Dr. Sandra Bushmich's research currently focuses on how alternative medicine (such as energy medicine) affects human health and disease. She is also interested in equine diseases of importance to Connecticut and the region. One study follows two populations of horses that are naturally exposed to ticks infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (causative agent of Lyme disease). Lyme disease causes lameness and behavioral changes in horses.  The pattern of natural infection is followed, as well as the response to various antibiotic treatments.

Dr. Sylvain DeGuise is the current director of the CT Sea Grant and an environmental toxicologist and immunotoxicologist, whose major research attempts to understand immune suppression as a consequence of environmental toxins in particular congeners of PCB. His emphasis has been the study of marine mammals. A separate line of research is defining the immune system of the oyster and understanding the interaction between protozoal parasites and various immune cells representing the host response.

Dr. Salvatore Frasca is a veterinary pathologist that has developed expertise in the diseases of aquatic animal species and other wild or captive zoologic species. His current research interests include defining pathologic determinants and understanding the ecological importance of fungal, viral, and bacterial pathogens in non-mammalian species. One of the current projects he is working on involves understanding the pathogenesis of an emerging fungal disease of snakes in the region, termed snake fungal disease (SFD). This fungal pathogen affects many snake species and has had a dramatic negative effect on the population of endangered Eastern Timber Rattlesnakes in CT. 
 
Dr. Antonio Garmendia is a virologist with research intended to understand the pathogenesis and protective immunity of a viral infection of swine called PRRS (Porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome). Various research efforts within his laboratory attempt to understand virus load, immune response initiated, major tissues that contain large amounts of the virus, and the way that vaccines may prevent clinical disease as well as the elimination of carriers. PRRS is currently the most economically important disease in the swine industry, both nationally and internationally. DNA vaccines supplemented with several cytokines are being employed in an attempt to examine protective immunity parameters. That may aid in the control of this important virus infection of swine. A second approach has been the generation of a vaccinia virus vector to carry PRRSV protection relevant genes.

Dr. Steven Geary is a microbiologist who specializes in understanding the Mycoplasma-induced diseases of animals. He is also director of the Center of Excellence for Vaccine Research, which is housed in the department. His major thrust, and that of his graduate students, has been to define genetic elements responsible for attachment and virulence in Mycoplama gallisepticum, a significant pathogen in the poultry and commercial turkey industry. In addition he has a collaborative research project with investigators at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory studying the effects of the CypA  on vaccinia virus virulence.

Dr. Mazhar Khan is an avian disease specialist and research investigator who has made a career of developing DNA-based molecular techniques for the recognition of poultry diseases. He has an important role in the surveillance for outbreaks of Salmonella food poisonings, as they relate back to contaminated eggs or poultry products - ultimately back to the farm of origin. In his basic research on Salmonella enteritidis, he has identified specific attachment outer-membrane proteins, which help the organisms bind to intestinal epithelial cells. Dr. Khan is a significant liaison with the poultry industry, playing an important role in surveillance for and containment of avian influenza, a matter of serious concern today. He is collaborating with Chinese scientists on an avian influenza control program in South China. A current research effort attempts to understand if a DNA vaccine against infectious bronchitis of the chicken, administered in ovo, will be more successful, more effective, and less expensive than current vaccines.

Dr. Guillermo Risatti is a highly experienced molecular virologist who comes to us having worked at the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. He continues to be a co-investigator in research conducted at the Island to better understand classical swine fever and african swine fever and various means for generating vaccines against these diseases, which are currently not present in North America. He also seeks to understand the pathogenesis, immune processes, and vaccine possibilities against the porcine reproductive and respiratory virus (PRRSV).

Dr. Joan Smyth is an avian disease pathologist and is currently the head of the CVMDL. She has extensive experience as a veterinary pathologist, with a particular interest in defining infectious diseases of farm animal species. She has published on adenovirus disease of cattle, sheep and chickens, and circovirus infection of commercial poultry and other bird species, and will continue her interests in discovering and defining virus-induced diseases of agricultural species. She also has research experience with necrotic enteritis of poultry, which is caused by Clostridium perfringens, and has plans to initiate research here defining the various types involved (A, B, C, D, E), the differences in pathogenesis induced by each, and ultimately means for control.

Dr. Steven Szczepanek is a vaccine and infectious disease immunologist that has recently joined the faculty from the UConn Health Center. His research interests are varied and include vaccine responses to infectious agents in hosts with chronic diseases (such as Sickle Cell Disease or Asthma). The primary projects of the Szczepanek lab focus on B-1 B-cell responses to the pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar-13 and identification of biomarkers of acute chest syndrome in transgenic sickle cell disease mice. Dr. Szczepanek also has collaborative projects with Dr. Lawrence Silbart (UConn VP of Strategic Initiatives) and Drs. Teresa de los Santos and Elizabeth Reider at Plum Island Animal Disease Center to broaden immunity to Foot-and-Mouth Disease virus using molecular virology and immunology to guide vaccine design. Dr. Szczepanek is further working collaboratively with Drs. Salvatore Frasca, Miltin Levin (both of Pathogiology), and Dennis Wright (Pharmacy) on an emerging fungal disease of viperid and non-viperid snakes in the region called Snake Fungal Disease. 

Dr. Herbert Van Kruiningen (emeritus) is a pathologist that studies Crohn's disease, a chronic intestinal disorder of man, with the intent to define its etiology. This is a granulomatous disease thought by some to have an infectious agent as its basis. In the past his studies have included the search of diseased tissues for viruses and bacteria by culture and immunostaining and the search through serology for antibodies that might show an association between an infectious agent and the onset of disease.

Dr. Paulo Verardi is a vaccinologist and virologist that is interested in the biology of the vaccinia virus and its use as a vaccine vector. His lab uses molecular genetic techniques to enhance the safety and efficacy of the vaccinia virus as a vaccine vector using his SMART technology. These SMART vaccines have inducible elements that allow viral replication to be enhanced or dampened, depending on the applicaiton. SMART vaccines are being developed in the Varardi lab to protect against PRRS virus, for biodefence applications, and as oncolytic therapies.

Dr. Xiaohui Zhou is a microbiologist interested in bacterial pathogenesis. His main research interests involve understanding how environmental signals influence virulence gene expression in bacterial pathogens such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus. This bacterium is the most common seafood-borne pathogen causing diarrhea worldwide and uses it type III secretion system (TIIISS) to deliver virulence factors to its host gut epithelium. The Zhou lab uses genetic methods to understand the mechanisms of regulation of the TIIISS in V. parahaemolyticus.

Contact Us

Pathobiology and Veterinary Science
College of Agriculture, Health and Natural Resources
61 North Eagleville Road, Unit-3089
Telephone: (860) 486-4000
Fax: (860) 486-2794
Email: maria.chartier@uconn.edu