University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Department of Microbiology

Biomedical Research Building II/III (BRB) Auditorium

April 15, 2011



Daniel Portnoy, PhD
Professor, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, UC-Berkeley
“How the innate immune system distringuishes pathogenic from nonpathogenic microbes”

Christian R.H. Raetz, MD, PhD
George Barth Geller Professsor,  Department of Biochemistry,  Duke University
“Discovering Lipids”

Julian E. Davies, PhD
Professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology,  University of British Columbia
“Small is beautiful”

Jeffrey N. Weiser, MD
Professor, Department of Microbiology,  Penn
“Co-Infection Subverts Mucosal Immunity”

The three-story atrium in Temple University’s Medical Education and Research building is now home to some super-sized bacteria.

The medical school recently unveiled The Unseen World, a new, 150-foot art installation comprising 55 giant sculptures of various bacteria and one virus found in the body. Each piece is inlaid with light-emitting diodes that pulse and wave to give the illusion of movement and illustrate the way that bacteria communicate with each other in the body, a process called quorum sensing.

The installation was formally dedicated to the medical school at last week’s Stiffel Learned Lecture Series, hosted by Dean John Daly and the Art Committee at Temple University School of Medicine.

“The Medical School’s art selection committee was comprised of experts from the Tyler School of Art, artists and collectors from throughout the region,” said Daly. “They selected this beautiful work from over 22 competing artists. Art and medicine are inextricably linked, and this sculpture is just another example of this linkage.”

The stunning work is the creation of local artists Kate Kaman and Joel Erland, who say that their goal is to instill a sense of wonder and awe among those who sit under it each day and members of the community who pass by it on North Broad Street.

“This is what Temple’s medical students are learning about, right here in this building,” said Kaman. “We wanted to take what was going on in the classrooms and the labs and make it accessible and fun for the people outside these walls — and maybe spur their interest in science as well.”

“When we started the process we were very much in love with the forms, which are very, very complex,” said Erland. “There’s this entire other world that exists inside of us — cities and highways and rivers and skyscrapers — and everything is just phenomenally busy. None of us would be here without bacteria.”

During the construction of the sculptures, which took about a year to create, the artists met with Bennett Lorber, M.D., Thomas M. Durant Professor of Medicine at the School of Medicine, to explore potential microbial forms that might be included in the work. 

“Kate and Joel did a tremendous amount of homework for this piece,” he said. “They were deliberate in their design, and seriously researched microorganisms and considered in great detail how bacteria stick together in the body, and how they move around and communicate with each other.”

Lorber, whose own art works grace the walls of break-out rooms throughout the building, said that the sculptures would help make Temple a destination for artists and scientists alike.

“The piece reminds us that we are constantly surrounded by successful life forms that we can’t even see,” he said. “It’s a visual reminder that there is a world we don’t consider, but is crucial for our existence.”

The Unseen World was largely made possible by the support of alumnus E. Ronald Salvitti, chair of the School of Medicine Board of Visitors.

Watch the video of the exhibit,  click here

Source:  Temple University Communications,  March 15, 2011

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Dr. Emil Kozarov and a team of researchers at the Columbia University College of Dental Medicine have identified specific bacteria that may have a key role in vascular pathogenesis, specifically atherosclerosis, or what is commonly referred to as “hardening of the arteries” – the number one cause of death in the United States.

Fully understanding the role of infections in cardiovascular diseases has been challenging because researchers have previously been unable to isolate live bacteria from atherosclerotic tissue. Using tissue specimens from the Department of Surgery and the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center at Columbia University, Dr. Kozarov and his team, however, were able to isolate plaques from a 78-year-old male who had previously suffered a heart attack. Their findings are explained in the latestJournal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis.

In the paper, researchers describe processing the tissue using cell cultures and genomic analysis to look for the presence of culturable bacteria. In addition, they looked at five pairs of diseased and healthy arterial tissue. The use of cell cultures aided in the isolation of the bacillus Enterobacter hormaechei from the patient’s tissue. Implicated in bloodstream infections and other life-threatening conditions, the isolated bacteria were resistant to multiple antibiotics. Surprisingly, using quantitative methods, this microbe was further identified in very high numbers in diseased but not in healthy arterial tissues.

The data suggest that a chronic infection may underlie the process of atherosclerosis, an infection that can be initiated by the systemic dissemination of bacteria though different “gates” in the vascular wall – as in the case of a septic patient, through intestinal infection. The data support Dr. Kozarov’s previous studies, where his team identified periodontal bacteria in carotid artery, thus pointing to tissue-destructing periodontal infections as one possible gate to the circulation.

Bacteria can gain access to the circulation through different avenues, and then penetrate the vascular walls where they can create secondary infections that have been shown to lead to atherosclerotic plaque formation, the researchers continued. “In order to test the idea that bacteria are involved in vascular pathogenesis, we must be able not only to detect bacterial DNA, but first of all to isolate the bacterial strains from the vascular wall from the patient,” Dr. Kozarov said.

One specific avenue of infection the researchers studied involved bacteria getting access to the circulatory system via internalization in white blood cells (phagocytes) designed to ingest harmful foreign particles. The model that Dr. Kozarov’s team was able to demonstrate showed an intermediate step where Enterobacter hormaechei is internalized by the phagocytic cells, but a step wherein bacteria are able to avoid immediate death in phagocytes. Once in circulation, Dr. Kozarov said, bacteria using this “Trojan horse” approach can persist in the organism for extended periods of time while traveling to and colonizing distant sites. This can lead to multitude of problems for the patients and for the clinicians: failure of antibiotic treatment, vascular tissue colonization and initiation of an inflammatory process, or atherosclerosis, which ultimately can lead to heart attack or stroke.

“Our findings warrant further studies of bacterial infections as a contributing factor to cardiovascular disease, and of the concept that ‘bacterial persistence’ in phagocytic cells likely contributes to systemic dissemination,” said Dr. Kozarov, an associate professor of oral biology at the College of Dental Medicine. Dr. Jingyue Ju, co-author and director of the Columbia Center for Genome Technology & Bio-molecular Engineering, also contributed to this research, which was supported in part by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health and by the Columbia University Section of Oral and Diagnostic Sciences.

The article appeared in Volume 18 of the Journal of Atherosclerosis and Thrombosis.

Source: Columbia University Medical Center

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