We are exposed to a plethora of infectious agents and our barrier sites are crucial to stop such invaders getting into our bodies. Barrier sites such as the skin or the lining of the gut are also exposed to a huge commensal microbial population that helps maintain barrier function and the cells must be tolerant to these friendly microbes whilst remianing alert to the threat of potential pathogens. How do immune cells within the barrier distinguish friend from foe? Our lab focuses on understanding and defining the initiation and control of immune responses in barrier sites such as the gut and the skin. In particular we focus on the mechanisms of crosstalk between immune cells and epithelial cells in reponse to the resident microbiota or injury, pollutants and pathogens.
By combining in vitro and in vivo approaches we have been able to characterise the barrier function of skin (keratinocyte) and intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and the crosstalk with immune cells, pathogens and commensal bacteria. Of particular interets is a group of immune cells called eosinophils and their role in barrier function. We have also found a novel role for the eosinophils that live in the adipose tissue that surround blood vessels (pervivascular adipose) next to the gut and showed they regulate perivascular adipose and vascular function.
We use infectious models such as Toxoplasma gondii, Trichuris muris and Salmonella typhimurium to answer fundamental questions about the initiation of immunity. By working with bioinformatics specialists we have been developing toolkits to disscet the population fo microbes at our barrier sites and use this information to better understand beneficial bacteria versu sopportuitsic pathogens. By understanding the immunology underpinning barrier function we are looking to develop biomarkers that can better predict inflammation and improve patient care for those with chronic long term confiditions.
I have a strong interest in public engagement with science and have developed projects to share and involve the public with my research. I have co-developed a number of games and activities around the theme of paraistic infection in a mobile activity called "the Worm Wagon" and I have also developed resources to enable people with english as second language to access scientific langauage and learn about science and apply it to their daily lives. I have co-developed a citizen science project called Britain Breathing which uses citizens as sensors to capture data on seasonal allergies to better understand why they occur and why they are increasing.