Infectious Diseases Basic Science and Clinical Research
Our faculty have well-established research programs in addition to collaborative relationships with researchers across Baylor College of Medicine and other academic institutions. Research projects range from molecular to clinical and include all categories of microorganisms. Particular strengths are in molecular immunology and cellular biology of acute inflammation, pathogenesis of bacterial infection, and treatment and prevention of viral disease, although nearly every area of infectious disease medicine is included.
The foundation for clinical research training in infectious diseases at Baylor was formed when the Vaccine and Treatment Evaluation Unit was established by Robert Couch, M.D., former chief of Section of Infectious Diseases, in 1968. Since that time the Baylor Vaccine Research Center has received continuous funding from the NIH, CDC, industry and numerous other sources. Their missions are to improve the health of the community (local, national and international) through vaccine and drug development, clinical and laboratory research in disease pathogenesis, and training of future scientists/vaccinologists. Wendy Keitel, M.D., has directed the Baylor Vaccine Research Center (VRC) since 1995; she and Robert Atmar, M.D., are the current co-directors of the Baylor VRC, and Hana El-Sahly, M.D. heads the Baylor Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Unit (VTEU). Shital Patel, M.D., is also a member of this research group that pursues vaccine research projects within this very active and well-funded unit.
COVID-19 Research: Our faculty continue to lead the nation in groundbreaking research and we remain active in the front lines of research during this pandemic. Dr Robert Atmar and Dr Hana El Sahly are site investigators and national leaders in the NIH funded Adaptive CoVID-19 Treatment Trial (ACTT-1) trial: Remdesivir for the Treatment of Covid-19 published in the NEJM. Dr Atmar and Dr El Sahly are currently involved with the NIH funded ACTT-2 study. They are also leaders in a phase 3 study of the Modern COVID vaccine. The National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s, co-led by Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Dr. Peter Hotez, currently are developing coronavirus vaccines. Dr Andrew DiNardo is partnering with multidisciplinary researchers at Texas A&M University, the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Harvard University for the BCG Vaccine for Health Care Workers as Defense Against COVID 19 (BADAS) study.
The Thomas Street Health Center (TSHC) is one of the largest free-standing HIV clinics in the United States, caring for over 3,500 patients annually. The clinic has a very active program of clinical research. Thomas P. Giordano, M.D., M.P.H., medical director of the clinic, performs NIH- and CDC-funded research on access and adherence to HIV care and testing. Elizabeth Chiao, M.D., M.P.H., conducts NIH-funded research on the epidemiology, prevention and treatment of anal cancer and human papilloma virus infection, as well as the aging of the HIV-infected population. Charlene Flash, M.D., conducts studies evaluating strategies for pre-exposure prophylaxis, and Bich Dang, M.D., performs studies to assess patient satisfaction and care experience. Numerous other Baylor and The University of Texas at Houston faculty derive clinical material from the clinic for their research. Between 2011 and 2015, over 100 peer-reviewed papers were published by HIV clinical investigators at TSHC.
The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center has active research programs in HIV infections and non-HIV infections. Maria Rodriguez-Barradas, M.D., is the chief of the VA Infectious Diseases Service and director of the HIV clinical care and research program at the MEDVAMC. She is the Houston principal investigator for the Veterans Aging Cohort Study, a prospective, observational cohort study of HIV infected veterans, age, race and site matched to a non-HIV infected cohort. She also is the Houston VA PI for OPTIMA, a VA Cooperative study; INSIGHT, one of six HIV/AIDS clinical trials networks funded by the NIH; and HI-TIDES (HIV translating initiatives for depression into effective solutions), a VA QUERI project. Dr. Rodriguez also has a long-standing interest in immunologic responses to pneumococcal vaccines among HIV-infected individuals. Daniel Mendoza, M.D., studies the effect of HIV on the immune system and the immune response to carbohydrate antigens.
Non-HIV infectious diseases research at the MEDVAMC is led by Daniel M. Musher, M.D. Dr. Musher has a strong clinical interest in infectious diseases, especially those due to bacteria. Broad areas of research have included pulmonary and urinary tract infections. He has studied pathogenesis and host response to infection caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Moraxella catarrhalis, Vibrio vulnificus, and Treponema pallidum. In the past few years, in response to the emergence of Clostridium difficile infection in hospitalized patients, Dr. Musher has developed an active research program to track and control this pathogen. Barbara Trautner, M.D., Ph.D., does both translational microbiology research and health services/outcomes research around device related infections. Dr. Trautner’s translational research has focused on the development of novel and antimicrobial-sparing strategies for the prevention of catheter associated urinary tract infection (CAUTI) in patients with neurogenic bladders or chronic indwelling catheters. Such strategies have included bacterial interference, nanoscale modification of the urinary catheter surface to create a protective biofilm, and the use of bacteriophages. Dr. Trautner’s outcomes research has focused on reducing antimicrobial overuse, particularly for catheter-associated asymptomatic bacteriuria. She is also involved in a nationwide project funded by AHRQ to decrease CAUTI and antimicrobial overuse in long-term care facilities. Richard J. Hamill, M.D., program director for the Internal Medicine Residency Program, has a general research interest in the clinical manifestations of infectious diseases. Specifically, he has been recently working in the areas of fungal infections, immune reconstitution inflammatory syndrome, Staphylococcus aureus infections, and Clostridium difficile infections. Edward J. Young, M.D., is an expert in Brucellosis infections. Daniel Mendoza, M.D., studies immune responses to T-cell independent antigens and vaccines.
The Center for Prostheses Infection was established in 1999 by Rabih O. Darouiche, M.D., professor in the Departments of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and Medicine at Baylor. The Center for Prostheses Infections is comprised of clinical and research faculty representing 18 different specialties. The principal mission of this unique center is to improve the quality of life of persons who have medical prostheses by developing and implementing technologies to prevent or treat biofilm-related infections. One strategy being actively pursued by this group employs probiotics. James Versalovic, M.D., Ph.D., in the Department of Pathology, has collaborative projects with this center. Dr. Versalovic’s research interests focus on the use of probiotic lactobacillus strains to treat patients with inflammatory diseases of the gastrointestinal tract and to prevent gastrointestinal and urinary tract infections.
Herbert L. DuPont, M.D., is the director of the Center for Infectious Diseases at The University of Texas School of Public Health. The major focus of Dr. DuPont’s investigations is the study of the epidemiology, microbiology, pathogenesis, immunology, risk factors, genetics, clinical features, control, prevention and therapy of enteric and diarrheal diseases with public health implications. Often laboratory techniques and procedures developed in the United States are taken to the field in an international setting to help define public health strategies.
Examples of recent groundbreaking work performed through Dr. DuPont’s global collaborations include trials of rifaximin as therapy and chemoprevention of travelers’ diarrhea, elucidating the role of diarrhea-producing E. coli as a leading etiology of travelers’ diarrhea, study of pathogenesis of post-enteric infection irritable bowel syndrome, and colonic microbial restoration as a means of treating recurrent Clostridium difficile infection. Dr. DuPont has established collaborative relationships with academic centers in Switzerland, Mexico, Peru, India, Kenya and Thailand.
The Center for Gastrointestinal Development, Infection and Injury directed by Mary K. Estes, Ph.D., began in 2001 and draws together a multidisciplinary group of investigators, including basic scientists with proven track records of success and well-coordinated clinical programs dealing with adult and pediatric GI patients. Within this group, Robert Atmar, M.D., focuses on the development and application of molecular approaches to detect hepatitis A virus and human caliciviruses, particularly Norwalk-like virus, in water, shellfish and other foods.
The Program for New Drug Development directed by Timothy G. Palzkill, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology, was started in 2007. Dr. Palzkill is examining the structural basis of ß-lactamase inhibition with the goal, in part, of developing novel inhibitors for potential clinical use. Lynn Zechiedrich, Ph.D., in the Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, is also a collaborator with Infectious Diseases section faculty. Dr. Zechiedrich’s laboratory focuses on DNA structure/function, DNA topoisomerases, and mechanisms of fluoroquinolone resistance.
The resources of the Center for Cell and Gene Therapy and the Human Genome Center are also available to our faculty and trainees through the laboratories of Cliona M. Rooney, Ph.D., and George Weinstock, Ph.D.
The Alkek Center for Metagenomics and Microbiome Research is directed by Joseph F. Petrosino, Ph.D. This center is focused on developing and utilizing molecular and informatic tools and resources to study the human microbiome, the genetic makeup of these bacteria, viruses and eukaryotes, and how these commensal microorganisms interact with human cells and tissues during the course of life.
Infectious diseases researchers include several faculty members from the National School of Tropical Medicine. In addition to its educational, clinical and advocacy programs, the NSTM conducts a comprehensive research and development program for producing the next generation of drugs, diagnostics and vaccines for the Neglected Tropical Diseases and Neglected Infections of Poverty, as well as basic and translational research for these diseases. Faculty includes Rojelio Mejia, M.D., director of the NSTM’s Laboratory of Clinical Parasitology and Diagnostics; Kristy Murray, D.V.M., Ph.D., director of the school’s Laboratory for Zoonotic and Viral Diseases; and Jose Serpa-Alvarez, M.D., a member of the North American Cysticercosis Consortium, currently studying the epidemiology of neurocysticercosis in Houston.