Therapeutic and Vaccine Development


About 1 billion people—or one-sixth of the world’s population—are affected by one or more neglected infectious diseases. Additionally, rare (Burkholderia pseudomallei and Yersinia pestis) and emerging (avian influenza, MERS-CoV, and equine encephalitis) pathogens are on the rise and represent additional health and possible bioterror threats with serious global economic impact. Faculty within the CPM are working to combat this world-wide burden through research focused on the development of novel therapeutics and vaccines.


Some of our most recent publications as well as a full archive of publications can be found on our Publications pages.

Research Faculty

Donghoon Chung, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Dr. Chung's lab discovers small molecules that can probe the biology of viruses. Our primary interests focus on positive strand RNA viruses as they include many medically important pathogens such as alphaviruses, dengue viruses, West Nile virus, HCV and SARS-CoV. Understanding of the biology of the viruses would provide us insight into the control of the diseases. Dr. Chung's lab is also interested in pursuing the development of these molecules into therapeutics for alphaviral diseases.

Colleen Jonsson, Ph.D., University of Tennessee, Health Science Center
Dr. Jonsson's basic and translational research program spans over 30 years in the study of highly pathogenic RNA viruses, including investigations of hantaviruses, influenza viruses, SARS CoV and retroviruses. Her research has addressed basic questions of the viral life cycle and of the ecology and evolution of virus-host relationships. Her research has also focused on the discovery of antivirals against hantavirus, influenza, SARS-COV, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, dengue, respiratory syncytial and West Nile viruses.

Mathew B. Lawrenz, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology
The genus Yersinia contains three pathogenic species that cause human infection. Two of these species, Y. enterocolitica and Y. pseudotuberculosis, are transmitted by contaminated food or water to cause yersiniosis. Y. pestis is responsible for a significantly more deadly disease known as the plague. Y. pestis has recently evolved from Y. pseudotuberculosis to be transmitted to mammalian hosts by an insect vector (the flea). Y. pestis can also be transmitted from person to person by aerosols. Because of the ability for Y. pestis to infect people through aerosols, the lack of an effective vaccine, and the history of development of Y. pestis as a potential bioweapon, Y. pestis is classified by the federal government as a Select Agent. Dr. Lawrenz's lab focuses on two major research topics: 1) Understanding the ability of Y. pestis to survive in macrophages and 2) Developing adjuvants to improve plague vaccines.

Igor Lukashevich, M.D., Ph.D., Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Dr. Lukashevich's lab conducts research center around two primary areas: 1) Novel vaccine technologies (virus-like-particle vectors; reassortant vaccines, infectious DNA vaccination) and 2) Molecular biology and pathogenesis of viral hemorrhagic fevers.

Jill Steinbach, Ph.D., J.P. Speed School of Engineering
Dr. Steinbach's long-term goals are to create drug and gene delivery vehicles that provide more efficacious prophylactics/treatments for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including acute and chronic (latent) infections. In addition to developing better vehicles that specifically target viruses and host cells, significant advancements can be made to rationally design delivery platforms targeted to the unique microenvironments where infection, latency, and reactivation occur. Gene and drug delivery vehicles, especially those suitable for delivery to the peripheral and central nervous systems (PNS/CNS) ‒ sites of HSV latency ‒ are still in the nascent stages of development.

Jonathan Warawa, Ph.D., Department of Microbiology and Immunology
The primary focus of Dr. Warawa's laboratory is to study the progression of disease of B. pseudomallei and B. mallei in respiratory disease models – the form of the disease most likely to be associated with bioterrorism. We are using a combination of approaches to better understand the interactions between host and pathogen in mouse models, including: in vivo imaging, targeted mutagenesis of bacterial genes, microscopy of infected tissues, and an investigation of the host immune response. The findings of studies conducted in this laboratory will contribute to our understanding of how these pathogens successfully colonize the host lung and disseminate to other host tissues, and identify how these pathogens succeed in overcoming the host immune response to cause disease. A better understanding of the disease process will allow us to develop novel therapeutics that will interfere with disease and favor a successful host immune response.