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Maria Gomes-Solecki, DVM

Dr. Maria Gomes-Solecki

Associate Professor
858 Madison Ave.
301 Molecular Science Building
Memphis, TN 38163
mgomesso@uthsc.edu
Phone: 901.448.2536
Fax: 901.448.7360

Education

  • Postdoc, SUNY at Stony Brook, 1995-1998
  • Fellowship, National Institute of Technology (Lisbon, Portugal), 1992-1995
  • DVM, University of Lisbon, 1992

Research Interests

Maria Gomes-Solecki labMy laboratory at UTHSC focuses on the study of Borrelia burgdorferi and pathogenic Leptospira sp. The objective of my research program for Lyme disease is to continue understanding the molecular interactions of tick transmitted B. burgdorferi with the mammalian immune system as it has shed light onto new pathways that can be targeted for development of marketable biologics. We use a number of microbiological, biochemical, molecular and immunology techniques to understand these mechanisms at a fundamental level; the biomarkers identified in these studies are then applied to development of new diagnostics and vaccines. The same scientific method is applied to understanding host-pathogen interactions of L. interrogans. We are also in the process of developing mouse models of leptospirosis. 

I am known in the field of Lyme disease research as an expert developer of oral vaccines based on commensal bacteria (i.e. Lactobacillus sp. and E. coli).

Collaborators:

Pubmed Profile (Gomes-Solecki)

ORCID: 0000-0002-3715-4543

Research Gate: Gomes-Solecki 

Entrepreneurial activity:

Federal Funding: NIH RePorter: PI, Gomes-Solecki; select 2003 to present (28 matches)

Funded Projects

R21 AI142129 (Gomes-Solecki, 2019-2021) – Role of TLR4 in persistent Leptospira infection

Abstract: Leptospirosis is a neglected emerging zoonotic disease with worldwide distribution that affects virtually all vertebrates. It is a burden on society due to elevated morbidity in humans (~1 million cases a year, 5 to 10% mortality rate) and extensive loss of animals of agricultural interest. Traditionally, leptospirosis is more common in tropical regions. However, an outbreak was reported in New York City recently. There is no vaccine approved for human use in the US and antibiotic treatment is only effective if used early in the course of infection. Critical barriers in the development of effective countermeasures against leptospirosis are: 1) absence of an inbred immunocompetent mouse model amenable to in-depth characterization of host factors underlying virulence, disease pathology and vaccine efficacy mechanisms; and 2) lack of non-toxic recombinant based shedding-blocking vaccines. The ultimate goal of this project is to develop immunocompetent mouse models of persistent leptospirosis, suitable for consistent measurement of Leptospira shedding in urine. Another goal is to test new, bi-functional recombinant based vaccine candidates, as well as established bacterins, to evaluate efficacy of new vaccine candidates and validate the mouse model. Our central hypothesis is that we can use TLR4 humanized transgenic mice as immunocompetent models of leptospirosis. The short-term impact of this 2-year proposal relates to development of mouse models that mimic sublethal and chronic leptospirosis that can be used to test shedding-blocking vaccines as well as adjuvants that signal through TLR4. The long-term impact of this proposal is conceptual and relates to the study of persistence of a spirochetal pathogen in an immunocompetent mouse model.

R01 AI139267 (Petersen/Gomes-Solecki, 2019-2024) – Field trial and modeling of transmission blocking vaccine to prevent Lyme disease

Abstract: Estimates from the CDC indicate that over 300,000 people are diagnosed each year with LD. Ecological approaches to decrease B. burgdorferi burden in Ixodes ticks, and transmission to other hosts, are highly desired tools for use instead of the current `check for ticks' approach. It is well established that after a vertebrate host is immunized with B. burgdorferi' OspA they produce antibody that, upon bloodmeal ingestion by a feeding tick, kills B. burgdorferi within that tick. These are known as transmission-blocking vaccines (TBV). These tools, including TBV, have not been proven to decrease B. burgdorferi exposure in critical intermediate incidental host(s). In North America, both humans and dogs are incidental hosts of B. burgdorferi. We and others have demonstrated that dogs can serve as stand-in/proxies for human exposure to infected ticks. Hunting dogs are a robust model for this trial because they serve both as a proxy of an active outdoors incidental host (like people at high-risk of contracting LD) and are a conduit of ticks into domestic habitats, increasing human exposure. The goal of this work is to demonstrate that a commercial-grade reservoir targeted TBV alters B. burgdorferi infection prevalence in questing ticks, in endemic areas (PA and MD) geographically distinct from the first field trial (NY). To show proof-of-principle for an ecological disruption of Borrelia transmission, we propose to: 1) establish the efficacy of a commercial-grade reservoir targeted transmission blocking vaccine (TBV) in reducing prevalence of B. burgdorferi in the tick vector and how it affects clinical disease in incidental hosts (dogs) in a five-year field study 2) Use a Bayesian hierarchical statistical model to estimate how TBV treatment of infected ecosystems will alter human B. burgdorferi exposure. These proposed studies are highly significant to public health as a field trial demonstration of a TBV that disrupts the enzootic transmission cycle of B. burgdorferi to incidental hosts. Furthermore, demonstration of reduced human (incidental host) Lyme disease will be performed through a stochastic Bayesian model that will provide critical evidence for a new tool to decrease environmental exposure to Lyme disease. This work innovates as a demonstration of an efficacious, easily distributable and inexpensive TBV that reduces B. burgdorferi prevalence in nymphal and adult ticks, as well as B. burgdorferi transmission from ticks to incidental hosts. Reduction of transmission of B. burgdorferi to incidental hosts as a result of TBV distribution will prove to be a paradigm-shifting strategy to reduce the burden of Lyme disease in veterinary and human populations. Findings from experiments proposed in this study will advance translational knowledge of B. burgdorferi vaccinology and will provide strong evidence regarding the possibility of TBV reducing the human health risk of exposure to Lyme disease across the United States. 

R43 AI136551 (Gomes-Solecki/Sia, 2018-2020) – Point of care assay for serodiagnosis of leptospirosis

Abstract: Leptospirosis is the most widespread neglected zoonotic disease in the world. It affects vulnerable populations such as rural subsistence farmers and urban slum dwellers. Urban epidemics are reported in cities in developing countries and will likely increase as the world’s slum population doubles to 2 billion by 2030. An unexpected outbreak was reported in New York City recently and climate change may account for its re-emerging status. A recent review of published cases estimated that leptospirosis causes ~1 million cases a year resulting in ~5-10% death rate. The gold standard for serodiagnosis of Leptospirosis is the MAT assay, which is 100 years old. MAT cannot be used for rapid case identification since it requires analysis of paired serum (acute and convalescent) in a reference laboratory with highly trained personnel and expensive equipment. Thus, MAT is rarely performed routinely even by diagnostic laboratories. Currently, there are no rapid quantitative assays on the market for serodiagnosis of Leptospirosis. In this Phase I SBIR, we propose two specific aims to develop a new diagnostic testing device for detection of antibodies against multiple L. interrogans antigens at the Point-of-Care. This low-cost portable device is a quantitative rapid assay that can perform POC testing as accurately as a laboratory ELISA. The test will be inexpensive (about 10 cents in material) and can be performed in 20 minutes, allowing for early diagnosis of Leptospirosis and treatment in the first visit to the doctor’s office. The technology can be adapted to a smartphone-based reader in a subsequent Phase II application to allow for serodiagnosis in remote field locations.

Last Published: Feb 3, 2020