I moved to Boston from Ireland in 2008, shortly after earning a Ph.D. in microbiology from the University of Dublin, Trinity College. Since then, I have performed my postdoctoral research at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in the laboratory of Dr. Michael Wessels. My interests are primarily in pathogen-host interactions, and in particular those that occur between Gram-positive bacterial pathogens and human cells.
My graduate work was focused on the interaction between surface proteins of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus and components of human blood. We found that one particular S. aureus protein, Protein A, has a multifunctional interaction domain, which permits binding to human immunoglobulin and von Willebrand Factor. Alternatively, when S. aureus encounters airway epithelial cells, an overlapping but distinct region of Protein A can mediate binding to the host cell receptors EGFR (epidermal growth factor receptor) and TNFR1 (tumor necrosis factor receptor 1), where it is important in the pathogenesis of staphylococcal pneumonia.
My current research is focused on another Gram-positive bacterium; Group A Streptococcus (GAS). We have found a mechanism that GAS can employ to resist killing within oropharyngeal tissue. Survival within this cell type may represent a sanctuary from antimicrobial drugs such as penicillin, which is otherwise highly effective against GAS.
I have always been passionate about mentoring and communicating scientific concepts; I have participated a number of times in the Harvard Four Directions Summer Research Program and have also mentored undergraduates thinking of pursuing a career in biology.
BIOL 123N Principles of Microbiology (with Prof Elizabeth Scott)
BIOL 123L Principles of Microbiology Lab
BIOL 221L Microbiology Lab
Currently, I am investigating the opportunistic human pathogen Streptococcus pyogenes, which colonizes the throat. Specifically, I am looking at the fate of those bacteria that enter human oropharyngeal cells, and either subvert, or are cleared by host defense mechanisms. Additionally, I am trying to understand the interplay between S. pyogenes toxin production and the host, and its implications in colonization vs pathogenesis.