Focus Area: Immunity and infectious disease

The world is now becoming a smaller place for microbes, as emerging and re-emerging diseases continue to catch the world off guard, and many medicines are losing their effectiveness. Thus it is critical to train a new generation of scientists to address today’s challenges of fighting infectious diseases around the globe, as well as to advance our understanding of how the immune system fights infections. The immune system is also critical for fighting tumors, and its dysfunction can lead to problems such as automimmune disease, the second highest cause of chronic illness in the U.S.

Students in this focus area will learn to integrate our current understanding of immune mechanisms and microorganisms that contribute to healthy function, the causes and mechanisms leading to dysfunction, and current evolving approaches to therapy and therapeutic development. This includes contemporary and emerging pathogens (viral, bacterial, parasitic, and other), the human immune response, current techniques for the development and delivery of novel therapeutic and prophylactic drugs, diagnostics, and vaccines, as well as the social, psychological, and economic consequences of infectious and immune diseases.

The TBMH faculty in Immunity and Infections Disease study a range of topics relating to the immune system and host-pathogen interactions, including:

  • Bioinformatics, computational modeling, and epidemiology
  • In vitro and in vivo models, from cell culture, to insects, mice, and clinical populations
  • Human inflammatory diseases, including cancer, tissue damage, atherosclerosis, obesity and diabetes.
  • Vector-borne disease
  • Viral replication, transmission, and evolution
  • Host defenses against infectious disease
  • Antimicrobial resistance
  • Vaccination and other preventative measures
Example faculty research:
Dr. Zach Adelman

Dr. Zach Adelman examines the molecular and genetic mechanisms underlying viral infection, replication, and transmission from mosquitos to humans, in order to to design and implement new methods of controlling or preventing mosquito-borne viral disease outbreaks.


Dr. Josep Bassaganya-Riera

Dr. Josep Bassaganya-Riera investigates the immunoregulatory mechanisms underlying infections with gut pathogens, by applying mathematical systems to mucosal immunology. He also studies the mechanisms of immune modulation by abscisic acid.


Dr. Liwu Li

Dr. Liwu Li studies the role of innate immune cells during the initiation and resolution underlying inflammation, and the pathogenesis of human inflammatory diseases including cancer, tissue damage, atherosclerosis, obesity and diabetes.


Dr. Sarah McDonald

Dr. Sarah McDonald uses sequence-based and structure-function approaches to investigate the mechanism of gene reassortment in rotaviruses, in order to enhance our ability to predict strain emergence and aid in rational vaccine design.


Dr. XJ Meng

Dr. XJ Meng studies the molecular mechanisms of viral replication and pathogenesis, as well as the development of vaccines against emerging, re-emerging and zoonotic viral diseases, including hepatitis E virus and porcine circoviruses.


In addition to the core coursework taken by all TBMH students, each student will take an intensive 8 credit TBMH course specific to their focus area, and at least 3 credits of free elective coursework to further develop their expertise in this area.

Required focus area-specific coursework
  • TBMH 5054 - Fundamentals of Immunity and Infectious Disease (8 cr)
Sample Elective Courses
Plan of study

Program Leadership

TBMH Program Co-Director

Audra Van Wart, Ph.D.
1 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016

TBMH Program Co-Director

Steven Poelzing, Ph.D.
2 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016

Program Support

TBMH Graduate Program Coordinator

Jay Read, M.Ed.
1 Riverside Circle
Roanoke, VA, 24016

TBMH Education Support Specialist