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Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease & Immunity

Quillen College of Medicine

Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease and Immunity

Dr. Matthew Zahner and Dr. Eric Beaumont collaborate on R15 funded by National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

The College of Public Health at East Tennessee State University recently published the following announcement regarding  R15 funding awarded to Drs. Matthew Zahner and Eric Beaumont.




Dr. Matthew Zahner (left) and Dr. Eric Beaumont (right)


    “Dr. Matthew Zahner, Assistant Professor in the East Tennessee State University College of Public Health’s Department of Health Sciences, and Dr. Eric Beaumont, Associate Professor in the Quillen College of Medicine’s Department of Biomedical Science received a National Institutes of Health Research Enhancement Award (R15) to study myocardial ischemia.

     Myocardial ischemia occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced, preventing it from receiving enough oxygen. The reduced blood flow is usually the result of a partial or complete blockage of coronary arteries.  It is associated with dangerous cardiovascular reflex, the cardiogenic sympathetic afferent reflex, which is characterized by profound activation of the sympathetic nervous system which increases blood pressure and heart rate.

     Research in Dr. Zahner’s laboratory focuses on how the brain regulates blood pressure and reflex activity of the sympathetic nervous system.  They have previously described the nerve fibers that innervate the heart and areas of the brain involved in the cardiogenic sympathetic afferent reflex.  However, the pathways are complex and more research on the areas of the brain responsible for generating the sympathetic reflex activity in the cardiogenic sympathetic afferent reflex is needed. Collaborative research by Dr. Zahner’s and Dr. Beaumont’s laboratory will provide much-needed information on hypothalamic and brain stem regulation, as well as the neurotransmitters, anatomic subnuclei, and activation characteristics of the central nervous system in the control of blood pressure after myocardial ischemia.

     The goals of the R15 NIH Research Enhancement Award program are to support meritorious work and, at the same time, expose students to research and strengthen the research environment of the host institutions.  In keeping with the ETSU College of Public Health’s commitment to providing undergraduate students the opportunity to engage in meaningful research, students in the Zahner lab are directly involved in assisting or performing experimental surgery, histology, and data collection that lead to scientific presentations, honors theses, and peer-reviewed publications.”


     The Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease, and Immunity congratulates these Center members on their new award.


Dr. Chuanfu Li has received his fourth NIH RO1 competitive renewal for research exploring mechanisms and treatments for heart attacks


     LiCardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one killer in the United States.  Every year 735,000 American have a heart attack (myocardial ischemic injury).  Within this group, 525,000 are a first heart attack and 210,000 occur in individuals who had a previous heart attack. Reducing the morbidity and mortality associated with heart attacks would benefit millions of Americans. 

     The research project, “Role of Toll-Like Receptor Signaling in Cardiac Ischemia,” was initially funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health in 2003 and has successfully been renewed for four funding cycles.  Dr. Li explains, “The long-term goals of our research are to elucidate the mechanisms related to ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) - induced heart tissue injury and to develop effective therapeutic approaches for the prevention and/or treatment of heart attacks.” The research completed during each cycle has revealed new and novel information that furthers our understanding of the mechanisms that play both protective and injurious roles in the event of heart attack.  In the first funding period, Dr. Li and his team demonstrated that Toll Like receptor 4 (TLR4) plays a deleterious role in myocardial ischemic injury, while modulation of TLR2 protects against I/R induced myocardial injury. In the second funding period, the researchers found that PI3K/Akt/mTOR is an important signaling pathway that regulates TLR mediated NF-kB pathway in the ischemic heart. In the third funding period, they established that exosomes carrying microRNAs play an important role in mediating crosstalk between PI3K/Akt/mTOR signaling and TLR/NF-kB pathway during cardiac ischemia/reperfusion. In this newly funded grant period, Dr. Li and fellow researchers will investigate how exosomes regulate crosstalk between endothelial cells and macrophages during myocardial ischemic injury.

     Dr. Chuanfu Li is a Professor in the Department of Surgery.  He is joined by co-investigators Drs. David Williams, Race Kao, and Tammy Ozment, also within the Department of Surgery, as well as Dr. John Kalbfleisch, Professor at Quillen College of Medicine, and Dr. Krishna Singh, a Professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.  Each investigator is also a member of the Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease, and Immunity. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Chuanfu Li and his team on their fourth successful competitive renewal for this R01-funded project. 


ETSU researcher and CIIDI co-Director presented an invited lecture at the 16th Annual Advances in Inflammation Research Symposium at Brown University School of Medicine and Rhode Island Hospital


     Dr. David L. Williams was an invited speaker at the 16th Annual Advances in Inflammation Research Symposium hosted by BrowDavid L. Williamsn University School of Medicine and Rhode Island Hospital. The title of his presentation was “Training the innate immune system:  A new approach to the management of sepsis”.  The immune response is classically divided into two major components, i.e. innate or adaptive immunity.  Adaptive immunity utilizes highly specialized cells (T and B lymphocytes) to develop “immunologic memory” upon exposure to pathogens and to mount a pathogen-specific immune response upon re-encounter. In contrast, innate immunity has been classically viewed as “non-specific”. It has been generally accepted that “immunologic memory” cannot be induced within the innate immune system. Therefore, it cannot be trained to more effectively recognize and respond to pathogens.  However, recent reports challenge this long held dogma. Recent publications have presented compelling evidence that the innate immune system can be “trained” to respond more rapidly and effectively to pathogens by exposure to fungal β glucan. The β glucan “immune training reagent” that was used to demonstrate the concept of trained immunity is produced at ETSU in the Williams laboratory.  Currently, Dr. Williams has more than fifty collaborations at universities and research institutes throughout the world that employ the ETSU training reagent. This research reagent has been critical to advancing our understanding of trained immunity and how the immune system may be modulated to increase resistance to disease.  

     In addition to being co-Director of the Center of Excellence in Inflammation, Infectious Disease, and Immunity, he also holds the Carroll Hardy Long Chair of Excellence for Surgical Research.  He serves as a Professor in the Department of Surgery.






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