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Research

Program 1: Diet as a therapy for chronic inflammatory illnesses.

Our laboratory has focused on Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) - a disease that imposes a significant health and monetary burdens throughout the developed world. Despite the urgent need, nutritional approaches to treating IBD are poorly developed. Hence, we created the IBD-Anti-Inflammatory Diet or IBD-AID™ (invention disclosure submitted): a nutritious, diverse and palatable dietary pattern that can be used long-term to address nutrient adequacies and assist with symptom remission. The innovative aspect of this diet is that it rationally targets the gut microbiome by including a variety of probiotic and prebiotic foods (no dietary supplements) to promote the establishment of commensal anti-inflammatory bacteria. To date, the IBD-AID™ is the only whole food nutritional therapy for patients with IBD that can be healthfully consumed long-term. Our goal is to dissect the mechanism of action by which the microbiota favored by the IBD-AID™ reduce inflammation in IBD patients. The knowledge gains from this IBD-AID™ research program can also be applied to other chronic illnesses where diet-microbiome-inflammation interactions are involved, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes (T2D), and cardiovascular diseases.

Program 2: Early life microbiome.

The early microbiome dictates the development of the nascent immune system, with potential long-term consequences on health outcomes. Babies born to mothers with IBD are at a significantly increased risk of developing the disease. Those babies also harbor a pro-inflammatory microbiome that induces aberrant development of the immune system. Therefore, modulation of the microbiome in early life could be an efficient and effective approach to promote a healthier immune system and potentially reduce IBD risk. Thus, we are: (i) investigating whether our pregnancy-adapted IBD-AID™ intervention during pregnancy could beneficially shift the microbiome of IBD mothers and their babies, thereby promoting a healthier immune system during a critical time of its development. (ii) Creating neonatal probiotics to protect infants from IBD. We posit that by using probiotics to selectively restore the beneficial newborn microbiome, infants will develop a healthy, non-inflamed gut thus reducing the risk of IBD We are currently recruiting expectant mothers with IBD, read more here [hyperlink to clinical trial tab)

Program 3: Culturally tailored dietary intervention for Latinx.

Historically, IBD is known to affect more people of Caucasian origin than other ethnic groups. However, the prevalence of IBD among first generation U.S.-born Latinx resembles that of non-Latinx whites. Despite being the largest immigrant population in the U.S., there is scarce research on Latinx with IBD. We are partnering with the Center for Population Health at UMASS Lowell, the Senior Center at Lawrence - Massachusetts, and the Center for IBD at the University of Puerto Rico to develop culturally tailored behavioral interventions, with targeted dietary recommendations aimed at modifying the gut microbiota to improve IBD symptomatology. Latinx are disproportionally affected by chronic diseases thus our research will pioneer studies for this segment of the U.S. population underrepresented in health research.

Biophysical approaches to studying viral replication

The common methodological theme throughout our experiments is the development and application of single-molecule and single-particle fluorescence assays to visualize dynamic events during viral replication. This includes single-molecule Förster resonance energy transfer (smFRET) imaging assays to probe the conformational dynamics of individual viral proteins and RNAs. Fluorescence correlation spectroscopy (FCS), while not necessarily a single-molecule approach, provides insights into compositional changes in macromolecular complexes. Finally, single-particle fluorescence dequenching gives us a window into the kinetics of membrane fusion at the level of individual virions. We aim to combine these experimental data with molecular dynamic simulations to generate movies of macromolecules in action.