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Research opportunities

Dalhousie’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology has a long-standing reputation for academic and research excellence and for equipping its students and post-doctoral fellows to excel in today's highly competitive field of biological research.

Microbiology and Immunology has very active, well-established undergraduate and graduate programs as well as opportunities for post-doctoral training, in four main areas: infectious diseases, cancer biology, inflammation, and host-pathogen interactions.

The Department participates in programs with the Departments of Biochemistry and Biology, and with the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre, the IWK Health Centre, and National Research Council (NRC) labs. Research in Microbiology and Immunology is funded through almost 4.2 million dollars from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and other granting agencies and industries.

Dal’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology houses several internationally recognized and well-funded research groups. Close collaborations and joint ventures between Microbiology and Immunology and clinical departments such as Pediatrics, Pathology, Surgery and Medicine as well as the Faculty of Dentistry have enhanced the development of several successful multidisciplinary research teams in areas such as cancer cell biology, vaccinology, transplantation, immunity, and inflammation.

Researchers associated with the Microbiology and Immunology Department are housed on several floors of the Sir Charles Tupper Medical Building, as well as in the IWK Health Centre, the Centre for Clinical Research of the QEII Health Sciences Centre and the National Research Council, Institute of Marine Biosciences.

Microbiology and Immunology professors' research projects

Here are a few of the many research projects currently ongoing in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology:

Dr. John Rohde's research interests include the bacteria of the genus Shigella spp. This strain causes shigellosis—also known as dysentery—which is a major cause of death worldwide, especially in children in the developing world. Using the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae to gain insight to the function of Shigella effectors, Dr. Rohde’s work has identified a number of effector proteins that disrupt highly conserved processes in yeast. With this research, Dr. Rohde hopes to better understand the communication between pathogens and their hosts, which in turn could eventually lead to prevention of infection.

Dr. Rafael Garduno’s research interests are in the early interactions between intracellular bacterial pathogens or viruses and host cells. In particular, he considers surface-expressed virulence factors and host cell receptors or intracellular targets. Model pathogens he studies include Legionella pneumophila, Listeria monocytogenes, Aeromonas salmonicida and rotavirus.

Dr. Jean Marshall’s research group is interested in the mechanisms by which immune and inflammatory responses are initiated in disease and in food allergy. Her studies are relevant to understanding responses against tumours, bacteria, and viral pathogens, as well as to several chronic inflammatory diseases. Dr. Marshall has a particular interest in mast cells, which are found throughout the body. Recently, her research group has shown that mast cells respond to viral infection and can promote effective immunity to tumours.

Dr. Patrick Lee explores two cancer-related projects in his laboratory. One involves the use of viruses to kill cancer cells, and the other involves the mechanism of action of the tumour suppressor protein p53. The first project focuses on the precise mechanism whereby reovirus infects and kills cancer cells.

As well, Dr. Lee and his collaborators are trying to understand exactly how DNA damage leads to p53 activation, and how the cell discriminates signals that cause cell growth arrest from those that trigger apoptosis.

Dr. Roy Duncan's research group is studying two important cellular processes—cell-cell membrane fusion and cell migration. Dr. Duncan's group discovered the fusion-associated small transmembrane (FAST) proteins; the group is using the cell-cell fusion activity of the FAST proteins to analyze the role of protein-membrane interactions and cytoskeletal dynamics on cell fusion and migration. These studies have relevance to such diverse processes as tumour development and cancer cell metastasis, cell differentiation and tissue formation, and viral pathogenesis.

Student research opportunities

If you do the Honours program in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, you could choose from among many areas of research for your honours project:

  • bacteriology/genetics
  • virology
  • immunology
  • inflammation
  • cancer biology