Microbiology & Immunology

Jason C. Bartz, PhD
Associate Professor

Research Interests:  Prion diseases are a group of fatal neurodegenerative diseases that affect humans (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease) and animals (e.g. chronic wasting disease).  All prion diseases of animals and a majority of prion diseases in humans are due to prion exposure by a peripheral route (e.g. ingestion).  Details of the mechanism(s) of prion transport to the CNS are poorly understood.  My lab is investigating three areas of prion pathogenesis.  First, we are exploring alternative routes of prion entry into the host in an attempt to better define the possible routes that prions can gain access to the CNS.  Second, we are investigating the role of the innate immune system in the processing and transport of prions to secondary LRS tissues.  Finally, we are interested in factors that influence the susceptibility of neurons to prion infection and/or replication. 

For more information on Dr. Bartz: Website

Michael Belshan, PhD
Associate Professor

Research Interests:  Viruses are intracellular parasites the require host cell processes to replicate. My fundamental research interest is virus-host cell interactions. Our goal is to understand how virus replication affects the host cell environment and results in disease. We use a multitude of genetic, proteomic, and cell biology approaches to study the mechanisms of virus replication and the cellular pathways utilized by virus. The majority of our studies focus on members in the subgroup (subfamily) of retroviruses known as lentiviruses, including the human and simian (monkey) immunodeficiency viruses (HIV and SIV, respectively), and, more recently SARS-CoV-2, the etiologic agent of COVID-19.

For more information on Dr. Belshan: Website

Kristen M. Drescher, PhD

Research Interests:  Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common demyelinating disease of the central nervous system (CNS) in humans. Patients with MS normally experience a chronic progressive loss of motor and/or sensory functions. The origin of MS is unknown, although some investigators have postulated that an environmental agent (i.e. a virus or bacteria) may trigger the disease. My laboratory utilizes a mouse model of virus-induced demyelination (Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus) to study immune factors involved in the development of pathology and clinical disease.

For more information on Dr. Drescher: Website

Richard Goering, PhD
Professor and Chair
Director, Molecular Epidemiology

Research Interests: The Goering laboratory is involved in research related to the epidemiological analysis of problem bacterial pathogens (i.e., tracking the movement of infectious agents in patient populations).  They have developed a number of methods that are currently used both nationally and internationally to monitor the movement of these organisms (e.g., pulsed field gel electrophoresis, PCR, and DNA sequence based methods).  With rapid developments in the whole genome sequencing (WGS) of pathogenic bacteria they are searching for ways optimize the use of WGS in epidemiological analysis.  They are also actively looking for new chromosomal “signature” sequences that may help to quickly identify problem bacterial pathogens and better allow them to monitor their spread.

For more information on Dr. Goering: Website

Patrick Swanson, PhD
Assistant Professor

Research Interests: The Swanson laboratory is interested in understanding the enzymes and cells that produce antibodies, and the implication of these mechanisms on immune repertoire diversity, autoimmunity, and cancer.  

Current projects are focused in three main areas: 

  1. Mechanisms regulating V(D)J recombination, which is the process by which genes encoding antibodies are assembled.  Specifically, we are interested in understanding how one of the two proteins involved in V(D)J recombination, called RAG1, is regulated at the protein level to constrain levels of V(D)J recombination in the cell.  We are also interested in determining if upregulated RAG1 levels contribute to genome instability and cancer.
  2. Analyzing antibody selection and receptor editing (which is a process in which V(D)J recombination is repeated to avoid self-reactivity) in autoimmune conditions found in mouse models and certain human diseases such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.
  3. Analyzing anti-tumor immune responses associated with certain surgical techniques.

For more information on Dr. Swanson:  Website

Travis  Bourret, PhD
Assistant Professor

Research Interests: The Bourret laboratory is focused on determining the molecular mechanisms driving transcriptomic changes required for infectivity by the Lyme disease spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi and the relapsing fever spirochete Borrelia turicatae. Currently, we are focused on determining how tick-borne oxidants are sensed by Borrelia to coordinate the expression of genes required for infection of mammalian hosts and tick vectors. Additionally, our laboratory conducts active surveillance of ticks throughout Nebraska and screening of ticks for various pathogenic microbes.

For more information on Dr. Bourret: Website.