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. Josep Bassaganya-Riera

Dr. Irving Allen's research program is focused on exploring the intersection between the immune system and cancer. Specifically, he investigates the contribution of unique families of pattern recognition receptors (PRRs) in modulating disease pathogenesis and inflammatory microenvironments.


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. 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.


Graduate student Michael Powell and Research Scientist Kenneth Oestreich, Ph. D. of Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute. (David Hungate for VTCRI)

Dr. XJ Meng

Dr. Kenneth Oestreich's research aims to gain a better understanding of how environmental signals and developmental transcription factors regulate gene expression patterns, and to use this knowledge to develop novel immunotherapeutic strategies to aid in the treatment of human disease.



In addition to the core coursework taken by all TBMH students, each student will take two intensive 4 credit TBMH courses specific to their focus areas, 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 (4 cr)
Sample Elective Courses
Plan of study