Mary Masterson, Ph.D.


Microbiology and Immunology

Area of Doctoral Study: Microbiology and Immunology

Undergraduate  Institute: Cornell University

Graduate Institute: University of Maryland, Baltimore

Research Advisor: Marcela Pasetti, Ph.D.

Description of Research

Bordetella pertussis, the causative agent of whooping cough, is a highly infectious gram negative bacterium that infiltrates and adheres to the epithelial lining of the lung. Children and infants are the most susceptible to infection exhibiting a paroxysmal cough, posttussive vomiting, inspiratory whooping and a higher likelihood of severe disease. For many years, infants were immunized with whole-cell B. pertussis vaccine (wP), but in the late 1980s the vaccine was found to produce harsh side effects and as a result, was pulled off the market in many countries. In the early 1990s, an acellular B. pertussis vaccine (aP) was developed to replace wP. However, recent epidemiological data has shown a steady increase in pertussis cases since the early 1990s. Researchers have found that the aP vaccines directed against pertussis may not confer the same efficacy. A better understanding of these differences is required for the development of a safe efficacious vaccine.

As such, the Pasetti laboratory is focused on the determination of the mechanisms involved in protective maternal-fetal immunity. Thus, my project will examine how protective anti-pertussis antibodies are transferred from the mother to her offspring.