Harvill’s research focuses on respiratory diseases and the various interactions that occur when invading pathogens overcome resident microbiota to colonize a host. The only initial CVI researcher to focus on bacterial rather than viral infection, Harvill has recently looked at the re-emerging and highly contagious whooping cough, caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis.
Because whooping cough incidence is increasing in highly vaccinated populations and remains high in developing nations, the disease demands a different approach, he said. So Harvill and his team are thinking outside of the conventional vaccinology wisdom.
“It’s absolutely necessary to start with basic biology here—not just vaccines, but immunology,” he said. Harvill’s team is looking at how the body’s naturally occurring microbiome react to invasions, and have isolated resident organisms that prevent B. pertussis from colonizing. Building upon this immunology interaction, his team can more effectively analyze how to manipulate resident bacteria to better prevent pathogen invasion, he said.
Harvill’s team also looks at the broader evolution of B. pertussis, as compared to similar organisms, and how immune responses vary accordingly.