September 11, 2009

Skaar’s research lands ASPIRE young investigator award

Featured ImageEric Skaar, Ph.D., M.P.H.

Eric Skaar, Ph.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of Microbiology and Immunology, has received a 2009 ASPIRE Young Investigator Research Award from Pfizer, Inc.

The one-year, $100,000 award reflects “Pfizer’s commitment to supporting promising young investigators with an interest in advancing knowledge in infectious diseases,” the company stated.

Skaar will use magnetic resonance (MR) and other imaging methods to study the dynamics of bacterial abscesses — part of the body’s defensive response to infections caused by Staphylococcus aureus (staph) and other microbes.

“Receiving the ASPIRE Award is a tremendous honor for me and for the members of my laboratory,” Skaar said. “The funds provided by this award will allow us to apply advanced imaging technologies to study infectious disease biology, with the hope of improving current therapeutic strategies.”

Skaar noted that the award recognizes the ongoing collaboration of his group with Mark Does, Ph.D., Wellington Pham, Ph.D., and John Gore, Ph.D., in the Vanderbilt University Institute of Imaging Sciences.

Staph is a significant threat to global public health, Skaar said. Antibiotic-resistant strains of S. aureus — such as MRSA — are the leading cause of bacterial infection in the United States.

One of the difficulties in treating staph infections is the severe inflammation and subsequent formation of abscesses following systemic infection by the bug.

Abscesses “wall off” the infection to prevent microbial spread to neighboring sites, but their confining nature restricts delivery of therapeutics to the site of infection.

Despite the involvement of abscess formation in numerous infectious diseases, Skaar said, surprisingly little is known about how and when abscesses develop, what host cells contribute to the process, and how host anatomy influences abscess progression.

Skaar and his colleagues are developing imaging probes that will allow both MR and fluorescence imaging within a single infected animal.

Using these probes, the investigators will monitor immune cell trafficking into staph abscesses, and they will examine the impact of linezolid, a Pfizer antibiotic that effectively treats soft tissue infections and is a therapeutic option for treating staph abscesses.

Skaar joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 2005 and is a Burroughs Wellcome Investigator in the Pathogenesis of Infectious Diseases and a Searle Scholar.