The impact of parasites and microbes on immunity at mammalian mucosal surfaces

Under normal healthy circumstances our intestines are home to hundreds of species of microbes, collectively termed the microbiota. Our intestines can also be colonized by parasites, such as parasitic worms (helminths). Both the microbiota and helminths can affect the functioning of our immune system, which in turn, can influence our susceptibility to a variety of infectious, allergic, and inflammatory diseases. Research in my laboratory is focused on understanding the mechanisms by which helminths and the microbiota affect immune system functioning during normal development and during states of disease. The incidence of allergies and inflammatory bowel diseases has increased dramatically in Canada over recent decades, and there is an urgent need both to understand the factors driving disease development and to identify new treatment strategies. My laboratory uses the mouse model system where the molecular mechanisms of interaction between components of the immune system, the microbiota, and helminths can be identified. Understanding the mechanisms by which the microbiota and helminths can influence immune system functioning may reveal new ways to treat or prevent allergic and inflammatory diseases.