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Research at Mass General
Robert Lochhead, PhD, is a postdoctoral researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital studying Lyme-disease related arthritis and the relationships between infection and autoimmunity.
I got my PhD in microbiology and immunology from the University of Utah School of Medicine.
I am studying the immunopathology of Lyme arthritis, and the relationship between infection and autoimmunity.
From a microbial and immunological perspective, Lyme disease is a fascinating human infectious disease model. The pathogen, Borrelia burgdorferi, is highly adapted to hiding from the immune system within connective tissue, resulting in infections that can go undetected for many months. What’s more, there is a wide range of disease manifestations and severity, depending on both host and pathogen factors.
Lyme arthritis, the most common late-disease manifestation, may persist or worsen even after the bacteria have been cleared by antibiotic therapy, called post-infectious Lyme arthritis.
My research is focusing on how B. burgdorferi infection and subsequent tissue damage may trigger chronic autoimmune arthritis, with the hope of determining mechanisms of how infection may induce autoimmunity.
As a young graduate student interested in host-pathogen interactions, I was attracted to the immunology of Lyme arthritis as a model of studying infection-induced autoimmunity. I’ve stuck with Lyme disease ever since, first in mouse models as a graduate student, now in humans as a post-doc.
I spend most of my time analyzing big RNA sequencing datasets, in the microscope room, collecting and processing clinical samples, and writing grant applications and manuscripts. Right now my typical day is mostly writing.
Without a doubt, the best thing about being a postdoc here at Mass General is the opportunity to collaborate with wonderful clinicians and patients who are so invested in the research side of human disease. Seeing the impact of these diseases on patients brings an urgency and focus to my research that will certainly shape the rest of my scientific career.
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