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Using Computational Biology to Fight Deadly Infections

Tom maccarthy

Tom MacCarthy, Associate Professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics at Stony Brook’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, received a $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to better understand how human antibodies are generated in response to infection by using computational biology. Part of a multi-PI $3 million grant, in collaboration with the lab of immunology pioneer Matthew D. Scharff, MD at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the research will employ computational models and analysis of high-throughput DNA sequence data.

Tom MacCarthy
Tom MacCarthy

“Our approach is innovative because the computational models we are proposing will test molecular mechanisms both computationally and experimentally, as opposed to classic statistical models that often ignore the underlying biology,” Professor MacCarthy explained.

This research has the potential to lead to the development of vaccines that will increase the speed at which broadly protective antibodies to infectious agents, such as HIV and influenza, are generated in the body. The research will be pursued via two objectives. One is to identify the extent to which a DNA signature determines the mutation process in four key human antibody genes that are important in disease responses. The other is to examine the role of several proteins that are involved in the antibody mutation process, particularly activation-induced deaminase (AID) and polymerase eta (Polη), and how they affect mutations in the other human antibody genes.

“We have entered an era where the convergence of engineering and medicine, engineering-driven medicine, has a unique potential to revolutionize healthcare,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, Dean, College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The work of the MacCarthy Lab, as reflected in this prestigious grant, will support the goals and mission of our new Institute for Engineering-driven Medicine as we strive to increase the pace of disease management breakthroughs.”

— Dick Wolfe

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