My research in the laboratory of Dr. Jim Cassat focuses on the host-pathogen interface during Staphylococcus aureus-induced bone infection (osteomyelitis). Bone is a dynamic organ, which is constantly being remodeled through the coordinated actions of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) and osteoclasts (bone-resorbing cells). During osteomyelitis the delicate balance between bone formation and resorption is altered, causing pathologic changes in bone remodeling. Moreover, bone marrow houses immune cell precursors, leading to the production of both innate and adaptive immune cell lineages which are critical for resisting infection by pathogens such as S. aureus. My research specifically addresses the questions: What innate immune responses in skeletal cells are activated by bacteria? What pathologic changes in bone during osteomyelitis are attributed directly to S. aureus? How does bacterial-induced inflammation lead to to alterations in bone homeostasis?
Vanderbilt’s Program in Molecular Medicine has given me the opportunity to be matched with Dr. Isaac Thomsen in the Department of Pediatrics as my clinical mentor. Whereas my research focuses on the pathophysiology of osteomyelitis infection at a basic level, Dr. Thomsen is studying this disease using clinical/translational methods, investigating the humoral response to S. aureus with an aim toward novel targets of intervention. His specialty in Infectious Diseases has provided a unique mentorship through experiences in the clinic and through observations of physician-patient interactions. This provides a valuable clinical context to frame the osteomyelitis research we are conducting in the laboratory. Finally, Dr. Thomsen has been able to put me in contact with physicians in other areas relevant to my research interests as well, including an opportunity to observe the surgical management of osteomyelitis in the operating room with pediatric orthopedic surgeons, to glean experiences from shadowing those physicians as well.