By Eric Craypo
Vincent Nieto has been awarded an NIH Post-Doc Fellowship that will fund his research for three years. Dr. Nieto is a member of Berkeley Optometry professor Suzanne Fleiszig's lab.
Dr. Nieto’s work is focused on determining how the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa — a bug that is among the most common causes of blinding corneal disease — moves from the surface areas of the cornea to deeper layers where it can cause disease. Currently, little is known about how the bacteria exit corneal epithelial cells to further disseminate. We do know that P. aeruginosa use an unusual mode of transport — tiny appendages allow them to drag themselves along through the corneal epithelium; a method of ambulation called twitching. One of Dr. Nieto’s hypothesis is that this twitching is a contributor for how the bacteria exit cells and travel deeper into the stroma. Another is that P. aeruginosa may secrete enzymes to dissolve the cell membrane — a process involving novel phospholipases — in order to exit from corneal epithelial cells.
In addition to being a common cause of blinding corneal disease, P. aeruginosa is also a major cause of life-threatening infections such as pneumonia, bacteremia, urinary tract infections (UTIs), and cystic fibrosis (CF), targeting immunocompromised and critically injured patients. Advancing our understanding of the pathogenesis of infection could potentially identify novel strategies for protecting our superficial epithelial against an important human pathogen.