Dana Mordue, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology
Dana Mordue grew up in a college town in Minnesota and got her undergraduate degree from Mankato State University, now called Minnesota State. She completed her Ph.D. in microbiology, with a focus on cancer immunology, at the University of Iowa. She became interested in intracellular parasites and did post-doctoral work with L. David Sibley, Ph.D., at Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.
Q: What is your area of research focus?
A: I study molecular mechanisms of host pathogen interactions using a multi-disciplinary approach.
Q: Could you summarize your work and your research goals?
A: The goal of my laboratory is to understand how intracellular pathogens evade and subvert host innate immunity to cause disease. The model we use is the obligate intracellular pathogen Toxoplasma gondii.
Toxoplasma is known to modulate its host cell, but the genes that contribute to host cell modulation, or those important for countering antimicrobial mechanisms, are unknown. We are using forward genetics and the host innate immune response as tools to identify and then study parasite genes important for resistance to host immunity.
We may also discover novel intracellular antimicrobial mediators, since we are using the parasite to identify host cell activation pathways it has developed defenses against. One approach we are using is random insertional mutagenesis of Toxoplasma, and isolation of mutants that are unable to persist in classical (macrophages) versus non-classical (fibroblasts) innate immune cells. Both of these cell types are activated by IFN-g to develop toxoplasmastatic activity.
This approach has the advantage of focusing on genes that when disrupted in the insertional mutant conferred the phenotype of interest. We are also using a complementary approach to identify parasite genes early in infection that are regulated by either the in vivo microenvironment or specifically by induction of IFN-g (critical mediator for the control of toxoplasmosis).
This approach will allow us to see changes that are dependent on aspects of immunity and in vivo pathogenesis that can not be readily recapitulated in vitro, such as recruitment and infection of inflammatory cells and natural cell activation during infection.
Q: What factors contributed to your decision to join the faculty at New York Medical College?
A: I can think of four things. One, the general collegiality and supportive environment of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology and its Chair, Ira Schwartz. Two, most of the faculty in the department were funded through extramural grants, which is very impressive. Three, the teaching. The program director, Dr. Jan Geliebter, has such enthusiasm for teaching that it inspires me. (And the teaching burden was relatively light.) And four, the College has trees and empty space—unlike New York City, where I also considered going.
Q: What is your next goal?
A: To renew my current grant and get another one.
Q: What do you want prospective students to know about New York Medical College?
A: They should know this is a student-friendly environment. Students receive individualized training and attention, and it’s unlikely they will fall through the cracks.
Q: Name something you’ve done in your life that stays with you.
A: One of the more meaningful things I’ve done was volunteer as a lay counselor in the neuro intensive care unit at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis. When someone had a loved one hovering between life and death, nothing else was important except being in that moment with the individual as they waited. Some of those moments and interactions were sacred.
Q: Do you have a favorite quotation you’d like to share?
A: Yes. It’s a long one, and it’s from Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."