Professor Gray-Owen’s research group aims to understand how human-restricted bacterial and viral pathogens colonize host tissues and evade the host’s otherwise effective immune response, and to understand the determinants of whether that response is protective or immunopathogenic. Their paradigm is the pathogenic Neisseria sp., which includes the bacteria that cause the sexually transmitted disease gonorrhea and rapidly progressing invasive meningococcal meningitis. These bacteria are highly adapted to life in humans, undergoing constant evolution of surface antigens via a combination of antigenic and phase variation, and actively suppressing both innate and adaptive immune responses. Prof. Gray-Owen’s studies in this regard have led to the development of more relevant in vitro and in vivo models of neisserial infection and disease; to a detailed description of molecular processes that occur downstream of immune-activating and inhibitory carcinoembryonic antigen-related cellular adhesion molecule (CEACAM)-related proteins; to reveal a previously unrecognized ‘pathogen-associated molecular pattern’ (PAMP) that allows innate immune detection of bacterial in the tissues; to provide new molecular and immunological insights into the epidemiological synergy between sexually transmitted gonorrhea and HIV-1; to the development of novel vaccines with the potential to broadly protect against neisserial infection; and to the development of a new class of antibiotics that function by activating cylindrical proteases within the bacterial cytoplasm.
Beyond his own research group, Prof. Gray-Owen directs the Emerging and Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC; epic.utoronto.ca), U of T's key strategic initiative on infectious disease research and training from discovery to policy, a magnet for world-leading talent, and a knowledge leader for infectious disease-focused education and science-based advocacy. He has also been the longstanding Director of the Toronto Combined Containment Level 3 (CL3) Unit – the only such facility in the greater Toronto area. In 2020, Prof. Gray-Owen received the Minister of College and Universities’ Award of Excellence for his extraordinary contributions to the COVID-19 response in Ontario.
- MIJ485 'Vaccines and Immunity'
- Director, Emerging & Pandemic Infections Consortium (EPIC), University of Toronto
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