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Contact Information

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
5501H Koury Oral Health Sciences Bldg.
(O) 919-537-3359

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Interim Chair and Professor
Division of Oral and Craniofacial Health Sciences
Associate Dean for Discovery and Innovation
Adams School of Dentistry
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Research Summary 

My research interests are focused on mechanisms associated with altered innate immune functions, which lead to dysregulated adaptive immunity. Currently my research program has three major arms integrated through with a central philosophy. Specifically, our laboratory focuses on the contribution of epithelial cell biology and signaling to innate and adaptive immune homeostasis and dysfunction. We study the contribution of what I term ‘epithelial cell innate immune (dys)function’ to three major disease conditions: pancreatic cancer, type 1 diabetes (autoimmunity), and periodontal disease (autoinflammation). While appearing to be a diverse research program, we have found that many of the mechanisms and systems in play are surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) similar allowing for rapid translation of our findings. Importantly, previous investigations into the role of epithelial cells in immunobiology have been hindered by a lack of robust primary cell culture techniques, which our laboratory has been able to overcome using both animal and human tissues. Thus, using our novel and unique tools we are able to evaluate our findings in the human conditions, again making translation of our findings that much more feasible.

In addition, our laboratory has been a training home for pre-doctoral fellows in pursuit of their PhD, and I have served on over 45 graduate student committees. We also have a long history of providing resources and mentorship to junior faculty and dual trained individuals, including DMD, PhD and MD, PhD. Using tools, skills and resources gained from my past capacity as the Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs at University of Florida and my current position as Associate Dean of Research in the Adams School of Dentistry our group strives to meet the needs of all individuals wishing to part-take in research intensive experiences.

Relevance of Research to CGIBD Mission: Our research program evaluates the role of epithelial cells in directing homeostasis, injury,  and immunity within the GI tract as well as the pancreas. Specifically, we focus our investigations on type 1 diabetes and pancreatic cancer and more recently COVID-19.