Shirtliff Lab Projects

Note: Following Professor Mark Shirtliff’s death  on July 12, 2018, his long-term research collaborator and lab manager, Dr. Janette Harro, is continuing most of the projects described on this web page. Please address all queries to Dr. Harro at This web page will be updated in due course.
Staphylococcus aureus Vaccine Development

This NIH-NIAID and DOD funded project uses the immunoproteomics approach to identify candidates specific to the planktonic and biofilm mode of growth to find a vaccine that is able to prevent all forms of Staphylococcus aureus infection. 

Vaccine Development Against Pathogens Causing Chronic Infections in Wounded Warriors

This DOD-funded project seeks to find vaccine candidates against pathogens that cause chronic biofilm infections in returning soldiers including Acinetobacter baumannii, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Host-pathogen Interactions in Chronic Infections

This NIH-NIAID project is elucidating the host response to find out how Staphylococcus aureus is able manipulate the host immune response and avoid clearance to progress from an acute infection to one that is chronic and mediated by biofilms. We are also modulating this ineffective immune response to enable the host to clear staphylococcal infections.

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Candida albicans-Staphylococcus aureus Interactions in Biofilms

The eukaryote fungus, C. albicans, and the prokaryote bacteria S. aureus interact in a biofilm mode of growth to promote systemic staphylococcal infection through physical interactions and modulation of virulence factor expression. Our research funded by the National Institutes of Health NIDCR in collaboration with Dr. Vincent Bruno at the Institute for Genomic Sciences, is directed at understanding this physical interaction as well as the proteomic changes when these two microbial species interact.

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 Diagnostics for Biofilm Infections

Biofilms are notoriously difficult to diagnose since the small nidus of infection is often missed when tissue is extracted for culture. It is important to discern whether the infection is a localized biofilm or a free floating planktonic infection since the treatment modalities for these two forms of infections are significantly different. In particular, biofilm infections, in converse to the planktonic modes of infection, are resistant to clearance by antimicrobial agents. In order to better diagnose biofilm infections, our laboratory has developed a rapid biofilm lateral flow immunoassay that detects host antibodies generated against biofilm specific proteins in the sera as well as an in vivo diagnostic agent that is based upon labelled antibodies against biofilm specific antigens that can be injected into the host and localize at areas of biofilm infection.

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Clostridium difficile Biofilm Studies

The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that C. difficile forms a biofilm in clinical cases of pseudomembranous colitis. In addition, once we identify antigens that are recognized by the host immune response in vivo through an immunoproteomic approach, we will use these proteins as vaccine candidates for the prevention of gastrointestinal disease by C. difficile.

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 Mycobacterium tuberculosis Biofilm Studies

Advanced TB infections are remarkably hard to cure due to the presence of the microbe in a granuloma derived from host and pathogen factors. Although this form of infection should be considered a biofilm infection, nearly all of the vaccine and proteomic/transcriptomic/phenotypic studies have used the free floating or planktonic mode of growth model. Therefore, our goal is to analyze the host response and proteomic nature of M. tuberculosis in a biofilm mode of growth.

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