Key Research Interests and Expertise

Escherichia coli is usually known as a harmless commensal bacterium in the human gut. However, several subsets of E. coli (pathotypes) have acquired genetic elements which make them pathogenic to humans. Research in our laboratory is focused on how certain E. coli pathotypes adhere to and hijack the cells in the human intestinal epithelium and thereby cause diarrhoea and severe systemic disease. In particular, we are interested in enteropathogenic (EPEC), enterohaemorrhagic (EHEC), and enteroaggregative E. coli (EAEC) which are major foodborne pathogens of worldwide importance: While EPEC is a major cause of infant diarrhoea in developing countries, EHEC is associated with bloody diarrhoea and severe kidney disease (Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome/HUS) in children in the developed world. EAEC represent a more heterogenous group responsible for persistent infantile diarrhoea in the developing world, traveller’s diarrhoea in adults, and enteric infections in HIV-patients.

Research in our laboratory aims at understanding bacteria-host interactions by using in vitro and ex vivo model systems that closely mimic the environment in the human gut. In collaboration with gastroenterologists at the Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital, we are using in vitro organ culture of human intestinal biopsies to investigate bacterial colonisation and gene expression, host innate immune responses to infection and the use of probiotics as treatment strategies. In addition, we have established a vertical diffusion chamber (VDC) system which enables us to perform infections under microaerobic conditions similar to those in the human gut. This model allows us to understand the influence of oxygen on bacterial virulence gene expression and pathogenesis. In addition, we can culture oxygen-sensitive gut commensal bacteria in the VDC, and thereby investigate the cross-talk between intestinal epithelium, pathogenic E. coli and the gut microbiota.

 

Research Keywords & Postgraduate Research Student Supervision

Pathogenic E. coli (EAEC, EHEC, EPEC)

Bacteria-host interactions

Human intestine
Diarrhoea

Virulence gene expression

Advanced infection models

Gut microbiota

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