Zak Lab

Our research is interdisciplinary: we apply mathematical analysis tools from chemical engineering and other quantitative fields to enormous biological datasets that we generate from clinical specimens and isolated immune cells. This unbiased and comprehensive approach reveals connections in the data that would not be detected otherwise, allowing maximal extraction of information from samples and revealing unexpected control points.

Our research is collaborative: Because the challenges are great, we team up with top scientists from Africa, Europe, and elsewhere in the US to do our work. Our collaborators are biologists, immunologists, and statisticians, as well as doctors and clinicians who do the hard work of running the trials and collecting samples from the field.

Research

Molecular signatures of tuberculosis disease progression

In collaboration with scientists at the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative (SATVI), Stellenbosch University (SUN), the Medical Research Council Unit (MRC) Gambia, the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology (MPIIB), the Aderem Lab, and many others, we are performing systems biology analyses of samples obtained from Mycobacterium tuberculosis-exposed Africans in order to identify signatures that can predict who is at risk of developing tuberculosis disease. These signatures may eventually be used to identify candidates for prophylactic treatment, preventing disease and breaking the tuberculosis cycle.

Molecular signatures of experimental malaria vaccine efficacy

In collaboration with scientists at the Malaria Vaccine Institute (MVI), Emory University, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), vaccine manufacturers, and the Aderem Lab, we are performing systems biology analyses of samples obtained experimental malaria vaccine trials in order to identify signatures that can predict who will be protected. These signatures identify immune networks that can be harnessed to develop a new generation of malaria vaccines.

Cross-regulation in the innate immune system

Macrophages are multitalented immune cells that constitute the front line of defense against infection. As part of our work in the Aderem Lab, we have discovered that macrophage signaling networks dedicated to detection of viral and bacterial pathogens cross-regulate each other. Understanding the mechanistic basis and functional consequences of this cross-regulation can yield novel immunotherapeutics and vaccine concepts.