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Center of Excellence for Inflammation, Infectious Disease & Immunity

Quillen College of Medicine

Center of Excellence for Inflammation, Infectious Disease and Immunity

Kui Cui and Dr. Yakubenko at work

CIIDI member and colleagues are published in Blood, featured on cover

     Dr. Valentin Yakubenko and his lab group, in collaboration with Cleveland Clinic and Case Western Reserve University scientists, were published in the prestigious journal Blood in July, 2018. In addition, a confocal microscopy image from the manuscript “Oxidative modifications of extracellular matrix promote the second wave of inflammation via β2 Integrins” was selected to appear on the journal’s cover (see page 2).  The article also received editorial comment acclaim .

      Markus Sperandino from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitat (Munchen) writes in the comment, “Yakubenko and colleagues have revealed a new and interesting mechanism of indirect crosstalk between neutrophils and macrophages during sterile inflammation. Taking into consideration the differential modulation of macrophage subtypes by 2-(ω-carboxyethyl)pyrrole (CEP), inflamed tissue-expressed CEP might turn out to play an important modulating role in fine-tuning the transition from the initial proinflammatory phase to the subsequent resolution phase of inflammation.”

      The role of CEP is of keen interest to both general populations seeking to mitigate their risk of inflammation– related diseases, as well as to bench scientists .  Dr. Yakubenko goes on to say, “Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as well as fish oil are generally considered to have a protective role in inflammation-related diseases. Recently, however, the beneficial properties of DHA were questioned by detailed analyses of multiple randomized controlled clinical trials, which did not show a protective effect of DHA supplementation in cardiovascular and metabolic disease. We believe our paper may help to clarify these controversial epidemiological results by demonstrating the critical contribution of end-product of DHA oxidation (CEP) to macrophage migration and retention in tissue during inflammatory diseases. The development of inhibitor that specifically block this particular product of DHA oxidation is a major goal for our future investigation.”

     Blood, a top hematology journal in the world, is a peer-reviewed medical journal published by the American Society of Hematology. Blood’s impact factor  in the 2017 Journal Citation Report released by Clarivate Analytics is 15.132.

      Valentin Yakubenko is the first and corresponding author in this publication.  He is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Quillen College of Medicine, as well as a member of the Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease, and Immunity.



Dr. Yao in Greece


PI Dr. Zhi Q. Yao awarded more than $2,500,00 in new grants

      Dr. Zhi Q. (John) Yao has had a productive summer.  In addition to attending and being Keynote Speaker at international conferences, he also received the news that he was awarded funding exceeding 2.5 million dollars via several mechanisms, bringing his lab to five concurrent, active grants. 

      Yao was awarded a Department of Defense grant through the Peer Reviewed Medical Research Program (PRMRP) Investigator - Initiated Research Award in the amount of $1,517,301.  The project’s title is “Virus-associated exosomes in inducing MDSC differentiation and suppression on host immunity for persistent infection and vaccine nonresponsiveness.”  The overall goal of this study is to “elucidate the mechanisms by which virus-associated exosomes regulate the generation and function of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) during infection, with an aim to understanding their roles in suppressing host immunity that results in vaccine failure and chronic infection in humans.”   The award is intended to support studies that will make an important contribution toward research and/or patient care for a disease or condition related to at least one of the current PRMRP Topic Areas. 

     Yao is also the PI for a R21 grant awarded from the National Institutes of Health titled “Telemere loss and T cell aging in HBV vaccine response in HIV-infected individuals.”  The goal of this study is to “investigate the mechanisms involved in telomere attrition and premature T cell aging in Hepatitis B vaccine  failure in the setting of HIV infection.”  The grant is in the amount of $407,000.

      Yao’s third new grant this year is a $650,000 VA Merit Review Award.  The grant title is “Telemere loss and T cell aging in HBV vaccine response during HCV infection.”  It will “investigate the role of telemere erosion and T cell senescence in HBV vaccine.”

     Yao also represented the East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine and CIIDI internationally this summer when he was featured as the Keynote Speaker at an international symposium, as well as participating in an international meeting on innate immunity.  Dr. Yao delivered the Keynote Speech, “HCV-associated exosomes promote myeloid-derived suppressor cell expansion via inhibiting miR-124 to regulate T follicular cell differentiation and function,” at BIT’s 8th Annual International Symposium of Drug Delivery Systems-2018, held at St. Petersburg, Russia.  In June, Dr. Yao participated in the 15th International Meeting on Innate Immunity in Chania, Crete, Greece.  

     Dr. Yao  is a Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine.  In addition, he serves as Director of the Hepatitis Program at the James H. Quillen VA Medical Center, as well as Director of  the ETSU Center of Excellence for HIV/AIDS. Yao is also a member of the Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease, and Immunity.  He is currently serving as a NIH U19 research grant reviewer, a position he has been invited to fill five times.  He has been working in viral immunology research over 30 years with a broad background and training in molecular virology, cellular immunology, and infectious diseases work.  In the last 15 years he has been collaborating with Dr. Jonathan Moorman to focus primarily on the mechanism of how viruses alter host immunity to facilitate persistence. Dr. Yao credits his colleagues and collaborators when discussing the plethora of research and awards in his lab.  “It is truly a productive summer for us, but it is due to teamwork, fruits from my coworkers' hard work, and support of each other, especially the support from Dr. Moorman, who has been working along with me for over a decade. Without his leadership, I cannot imagine how we can be so successful and build such a strong viral immunology program at ETSU today.”





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