Haesun Park, Ph.D.
Dr. Park's research interest is focused on understanding molecular and cellular bases of Streptococcus pyogenespathogenesis, especially host-pathogen interactions required for establishment of infection. S. pyogenesis the most common cause of clinically significant bacterial pharyngitis, and it is also responsible for many serious diseases such as rheumatic fever, heart disease, toxic shock, and skin infections. Her research is in three areas: identification of virulence factors and their pathogenic mechanisms, characterization of immune responses during infection, and development of effective vaccines for protection against streptococci.
Another major focus of her work is to understand how innate immunity can enhance vaccine-induced immune responses. One of the mechanisms by which the innate immune cells sense the invasion of pathogens is through Toll-like receptors (TLRs), a family of proteins that recognize microorganisms through pathogen-associated molecular patterns. Stimulation of TLRs triggers a signaling cascade that culminates in a specific transcriptional response of genes that are involved in initiation of both innate and adaptive immunity tailored to the type of pathogen encountered.
A study is in progress to test whether stimulation of different TLRs enhances immunogenicity of a human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) vaccine protein and ultimately provides protection from infection by eliciting effective immune responses using an animal model. While a vaccine is the best approach to halt the HIV pandemic, HIV presents unique challenges to vaccine development. One is the lack of knowledge of the immune components required to protect the host from infection. Dr. Park's research goal is to unravel the specific components of host innate and adaptive immunity that provide protection against pathogenic simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) infection in rhesus macaques and to rationally guide improved formulations of HIV vaccines. A final area of interest is to understand the mechanism by which this virus subverts and exploits host immune system, which plays critical roles in its ability to cause disease or chronic infection, and in so doing identify potential targets for new preventives and therapeutics.
Haesun Park is a research assistant professor at the Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute, OHSU, and project coordinator in the Pathobiology and Immunology Division for the ONPRC's Collaborative Research Unit. She received a B.S. in Microbiology from Seoul National University in South Korea, and a Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology from the University of Michigan in 1999. After postdoctoral work at the University of Minnesota Medical School, she worked as a Research Associate in the same institute until she joined the VGTI in 2007.