Department Honors Coordinator
N229 Life Science Lab
Microbiology, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 2003
Wilmore C. Webley, Ph.D.
Department of Microbiology
203 Morrill Science Center IVN
University of Massachusetts
639 North Pleasant Street
Amherst, MA 01003-9298
My research has focused on two parallel themes: (1) understanding chlamydial interaction with the infected host in an attempt to better characterize the diseases that this family of bacteria cause and (2) design and development of interventional and therapeutic strategies to prevent or treat chlamydial infections and associated sequelae.
Research Overview and Approaches
Our research program uses molecular, cell biology, immunology and proteomics tools to study the lifestyle, disease pathologies and development of treatment/prevention strategies for the obligate intracellular bacterial pathogens, Chlamydia . Chlamydia is the most frequently reported bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the United States and many other parts of the developed and developing world. This family of bacteria is also the most common cause of preventable blindness worldwide, causing devastating conjunctivitis in endemic areas (mostly Africa and Asia ). While it is true that there are antibiotics that are relatively effective at treating chlamydial infections, over 80% of these infections are asymptomatic and those affected do not realize they have been infected until severe pathologies are manifested. Efforts to find an effective vaccine against Chlamydia has been largely unsuccessful, mainly because of difficulty in identifying genus-specific antigens that would be effective against all strains for the organism as well as a lack of effective vaccine delivery systems. At the same time, evidence suggests that these bacteria might be involved in diseases other than the ones originally associated with them, prompting new research into the expanded tropism of the organism.
Specific Research Goals
C. pneumon iae has been strongly associated with cardiovascular disease, reactive arthritis and various chronic respiratory diseases, most notably Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Asthma. My research focuses on (1) Chlamydial Vaccine Display and Delivery System: Our lab has been working on the identification of vaccine targets for Chlamydia and the design of an effective display and delivery system for these genus-specific antigens using the gas vesicles of the Halophilic Archaea, Halobacteirum. This system has the capacity to display a wide range of pathogen proteins on its surface, has strong self-adjuvanting properties, is slowly degraded and does not negatively affect the human host.
(2) Chlamydia is involved in pediatric asthma initiation and exacerbation: Based on the theme of the expanding tropism of chlamydial infections and evidence of frequent chlamydial infection in the lungs of children and adults with reactive airway disease, we have explored the hypothesis that Chlamydia is involved in the initiation and exacerbation of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases when infection takes place at an early age. Our lab has successfully isolated viable chlamydial organisms from normal blood donors as well as bronchial lavage fluid from the lungs of children with asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases and has shown that the organisms are associated with various immune modulations and pathologies in the respiratory tract.
Entry, survival, and host range of the obligate intracellular pathogens, Chlamydiaceae