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Dr. Rubens researches the pathogenesis of infections that cause neurologic damage in newborns. Group B streptococcus (GBS) is the most significant bacterial pathogen for newborn infants, causing neonatal sepsis, pneumonia, and meningitis. This pathogen infects about 6,000 infants annually in the U.S., of whom approximately 15 to 20 percent die and up to 50 percent suffer serious neurologic problems. GBS has also been shown to play a role in triggering premature labor and delivery. Prevention of such infections or a decrease in severity of response to such infections could reduce serious developmental disabilities caused by GBS disease. Rubens is seeking to characterize specific traits of this bacterium that are linked to its virulence in human newborns infants and as a cause of infection-related preterm birth. These studies have led to development of a potential vaccine and identified potential targets for new antimicrobial therapies to treat the disease.
Rubens and colleagues are using molecular biology techniques to determine the genetic and biochemical basis of GBS interaction with the host. They are exploring, using in vitro and in vivo assays, effects of specific mutations on the ability of GBS to interact with epithelial and endothelial cells, to interact with the placental membrane, to grow in amniotic fluid, to cause sepsis and meningitis, and to evade the innate immune response.
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