Cells under a microscope

Immunologics and Neurotoxin Innovations Lab

Dr. Jennifer McCall’s Immunologics and Neurotoxin Innovations Lab is focuses on drug discovery and development and finding new pharmacotherapeutics from the sea. We bio-prospect algae for active compounds that may be used to treat chronic inflammation, neurological dysfunction, and resistant bacterial or fungal infections. Additionally, we develop cell-based bioassays to test compounds for pharmacological activity and toxicity, as well as discover mechanisms of action. The Lab is located at the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina Wilmington.

Projects

Immunomodulatory Drug Discovery

Chronic inflammation exacerbates a myriad of diseases. Chronic inflammation is intimately tied to immune resolution. Resolution is an active process mediated by pro-resolving chemical compounds derived from polyunsaturated fatty acids (like omega-3s). When inflammatory responses fail to resolve, they can cause harm through chronic inflammation. Our lab is interested in discovering new compounds from algae (which are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids) that can actively resolve inflammation and produce anti-inflammatory drug effects. Our ultimate goal is to produce a new suite of anti-inflammatory drugs that can be used to treat and resolve chronic inflammation.

Innovations from Neurotoxins

Marine neurotoxins are notorious for contaminating seafood during harmful algal blooms. Many are heat and acid stable, and upon ingestion, humans can have a range of symptoms (depending on the toxins), from gastrointestinal upset to nerve dysfunction to death in extreme cases. While these compounds are historically avoided due to the health hazards, several marine neurotoxins have shown positive pharmacological effects, including pain management and stroke treatment. Our lab is investigating the positive effects of low dose marine neurotoxins in treating neurological disorders.

Antimicrobial Drug Discovery

Antibacterial resistance has reached a critical level and is one of the biggest threats to global public health, according to the World Health Organization. Soon, we may face deadly infections, once treatable, that now have no known cure. Our lab is looking for new antimicrobials for pathogenic bacteria and fungi. Many of these projects are done in collaboration with chemists who create new compounds and others that bioprospect from natural sources.

Bioassay Development

A common thread in these projects is that they utilize bioassay-guided drug discovery, and in order to use this process, we need to develop bioassays to optimally detect potential drug activity and mechanisms of action. Part of our lab work is dedicated to developing rigorous tests to determine toxicity and efficacy of potential drugs.