Dr. Bassaganya-Riera directs the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) and the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens (MIEP) at Virginia Tech—two large scale research programs focused on improving human health. The NIMML and MIEP use computational models to better understand the immune system’s response to a variety of ailments, including enteric, infectious and immune-mediated dieseases (i.e. inflammatory bowel disease) and systemic chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes.
Dr. Bassaganya-Riera and colleague Raquel Hontecillas founded the Nutritional Immunology and Molecular Medicine Laboratory (NIMML) in 2002 at Iowa State University and NIMML operations at Virginia Tech started in 2003. The laboratory is currently located at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute and is composed of about 20 student and faculty scientists committed to developing novel approaches for modulating immune and inflammatory responses. The NIMML has received funding from the Fralin Life Science Institute, National Institutes of Health, commodity groups and Pharma companies. NIMML’s modeling and simulation efforts are fully integrated with pre-clinical and clinical human immunology research aimed at discovering novel mechanisms, disease biomarkers, therapeutic targets and identifying safer new medicines to treat chronic inflammation of the immune system, which is often found at the core of chronic infectious and non-communicable diseases.
Additionally, Dr. Bassaganya-Riera directs the Center for Modeling Immunity to Enteric Pathogens (MIEP), funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and involving more than 35 researchers at Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and Caprion Proteomics. The mission of MIEP is to understand the mechanisms of action underlying immune responses to enteric pathogens. The team engages the infectious disease and immunology communities worldwide to disseminate user-friendly mathematical and computational models for the study of human immunity to infection or vaccination.
The NIMML group discovered that inflammatory processes in general, and obesity-related inflammation in particular, can be treated by targeting anti-inflammatory receptors found in the nucleus of cells. Interestingly, immune cells are highly responsive to regulation through a nuclear receptor named peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma. The long-term goal of the laboratory is to identify novel, naturally occurring, orally active compounds that bind to this receptor and elicit anti-inflammatory actions. Of note, the NIMML made seminal discoveries on the mechanism of anti-inflammatory action of conjugated linoleic acid in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). The NIMML is also developing abscisic acid and other naturally occurring compounds as potential anti-inflammatory and insulin-sensitizing treatments. The NIMML commercialization efforts are being channeled through BioTherapeutics Inc.