James Clyburn Research Center

Westerink Research Lab

M. A. Julia Westerink, M.D.

Maria A. Julia Westerink, M.D.

Division of Infectious Diseases

Over the past 16 years, our laboratory has studied the immune response to pneumococcal vaccination. All of these studies have been performed in humans. Initially these studies were focused on the elderly population. We defined immune response, functional antibody activity and V gene usage in this population. We have developed unique directly labeled fluorescent pneumococcal polysaccharides (PPS). This has allowed us to focus on the antigen-specific B cell response. The PPS-specific immune response, including antibody response, functional activity and B cell phenotype analysis has been performed by us in more than 110 healthy young adults following pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccination (PPV23). These studies have formed the basis for comparative analysis of the immune response following PPV23 in elderly and HIV+ individuals.

We have been able to study the immune response to both the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine and the conjugated pneumococcal vaccine in both young and elderly persons at various stages of HIV disease. Thus using both traditional and advanced immunological techniques such as ELISA, opsonophagocytic assays and flow cytometry we have defined the response to vaccination in healthy young and elderly and HIV infected persons. We are presently extending our studies to a cellular level by analyzing gene expression of  pertinent genes in both polysaccharide-specific and non-specific B cells in an effort to define specific immune deficiencies in the elderly, HIV-positive and renal transplant populations, facilitating development of improved pneumococcal vaccines.