A new biological safety lab constructed in the Ithaca College Center for Natural Sciences is enabling Associate Professor David Gondek and his students to conduct research on a dangerous group of infectious diseases, a project that may lead to a vaccine. The lab, funded in part with a $360,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health, is outfitted with isolation cages for mice and special filters for bacterial containment.
“We’re studying an important family of bacteria that share a special apparatus – like a molecular hypodermic needle – that injects bacterial proteins across a host cell’s membrane,” said Gondek. “These bacterial virulence factors induce a hostile takeover of the cell, shutting down certain activities and upregulating other things to keep the host cell alive.”
The mechanism for taking over the cell is shared by many kinds of deadly bacteria, from E. coli and Salmonella to the Black Plague. Gondek is using the sexually transmitted disease Chlamydia, which uses the same mechanism, as a model for his research.
“Chlamydia is the number one bacterial sexually transmitted infection in the U.S.,” he said. “The pathogen is experiencing a steady resurgence, with increasing numbers of cases reported each year. This same pathogen can also cause an eye infection, and in the developing world, it’s the leading cause of preventable blindness.”