Overview

Research in Dr. Speert’s laboratory is directed at gaining a clearer understanding of function of the human innate immune system and the control of inflammation in health and disease. Investigations are currently underway to identify both bacterial and host determinants of dysfunctional inflammation.

Work in Dr. Speert’s laboratory has focused for the past 30 years on the causes of bacterial infections in cystic fibrosis. His work has identified a number of bacterial and host factors which likely conspire to create an environment in the CF lung which favors infection with the bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia complex. These studies are ultimately directed at identifying novel strategies to prevent or enhance therapy of such infections.

Since 2006, Dr. Speert has worked to establish a durable collaboration with colleagues in South Africa where childhood disease is far more common and more severe than in North America. His group is now studying children born to, but not infected by, mothers who are HIV-positive. These children experience severe infections during the first year of life for reasons that are unexplained. He has established a birth cohort study in Cape Town and is planning a cohort study of older children in Paarl, Western Cape Province to better understand the causes for morbidity and mortality in these infants and to determine if they are protected against HIV when exposed later in life.

Research in Dr. Speert’s laboratory is supported with grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Cystic Fibrosis Canada, the BC Lung Association, BC Children’s Hospital Foundation, the Martha Piper Fund (UBC) and the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

Research

Mechanisms for enhanced morbidity and mortality in HIV-exposed but uninfected (HEU) babies.
Babies born to HIV-infected mothers are usually not infected themselves, escape from infection being enhanced by anti-retroviral therapy in mother and infant around the time of delivery. A pilot cohort study in collaboration with colleagues at Stellenbosch University in South Africa has confirmed the enhanced morbidity of HEU babies, and immunological studies are beginning to unravel some of the causes. A larger cohort study is planned to commence in 2011 and will explore in greater depth the preliminary observations made during the pilot study. This collaborative interaction has provided opportunities for trainees from both South Africa and Canada to gain experience in advanced innate immunology and in international health.

Pathogenesis of bacterial infection in patients with cystic fibrosis
This research, funded by Cystic Fibrosis Canada and the British Columbia Lung Association, is directed at gaining a clearer understanding of the pathogenesis of lung infections with Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Burkholderia cepacia complex. Specific areas of research include analysis of biofilm formation/quorum sensing, evaluation of mechanisms of evasion of normal host defence mechanisms and molecular epidemiology for analysis of possible patient-to-patient spread.

Innate defence of the lung against bacterial infection
This research, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Canadian Bacterial Diseases Network, is directed at gaining a clearer understanding of the host pattern recognition mechanisms for host defence of the lung against inhaled pathogens. Work is focussed on macrophages, polymorphonuclear leukocytes and dendritic cells and the role of specific receptor-ligand interactions.

Honours & Awards

Ivory Tower Award, presented by the Paediatric Residents for teaching, UBC - 2008

Sauder Family Chair, UBC - 2007

Team leader, Research Team of Distinction, Dept. of Pediatrics, UBC - 2004

Research Group Members

Maureen Campbell, Lab Manager
Carolyn Smith
Kelly MacDonald, Research Associate
James Zlosnik, Research Associate - Chronic Bacterial Infections in Cystic Fibrosis. Primary Scientist and Manager - Canadian Burkholderia Cepacia Complex research Referral Repository. Project Manager - Centre for Understanding and Preventing Infection in Children.
Giulio Laino, Research Assistant Co-Op Student