SLU Researcher Receives $911,000 Veteran’s Administration Merit Award

Jacki Kornbluth, Ph.D., professor of pathology and molecular microbiology and immunology, and a health science specialist at the St. Louis Veteran’s Administration (VA) Healthcare System, has been awarded a four-year, $911,000 VA Merit Award for her work on anti-tumor and anti-microbial immunity.

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Jacki Kornbluth, Ph.D., with SLU colleague Donald Lawrence, Ph.D., who has been instrumental in developing the laboratory’s research program to study the role of NKLAM in macrophage function and infectious disease in vitro and in vivo. Submitted photo

Kornbluth’s laboratory has been studying the role of Natural Killer Lytic-Associated Molecule (NKLAM) in controlling the body’s immune response to a variety of foreign agents, including tumor cells, viruses and bacteria.

 They were the first to discover this gene in 1999 and their research has been ongoing.

 “We generated mice that lack the gene for NKLAM in order to better understand how NKLAM works in the body,” Kornbluth said.

 This model has become essential in confirming the role of NKLAM in the function of natural killer (NK) cells and macrophages in vivo.  NKLAM-deficient mice show substantially diminished NK and macrophage function. They also show significantly greater tumor growth, tumor dissemination and metastasis. 

 They have recently found that NKLAM is essential for the resolution of Streptococcus pneumoniae respiratory infections.

 “Our research objectives and long term goals are to determine how NKLAM controls innate immunity,” Kornbluth said. “Continued studies of NKLAM that are supported by this VA Merit Award will help us develop new immune-based strategies for treatment and perhaps, prevention, of cancer and infectious diseases.”

 Kornbluth says development of a therapeutic strategy for delivering NKLAM to treat cancer and infectious diseases is a major goal of their laboratory.

 “Cancer is a disease that touches all of our lives,” Kornbluth said. “In addition, with the emergence of new, drug-resistant strains of bacterial pathogens, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, it is even more important than ever to develop new strategies to treat these infections.

Kornbluth also serves as director of the Ph.D. graduate program in pathology and course director for SLU’s graduate course in pathology.

She recently celebrated her 25th anniversary with the VA and this is her fifth consecutive VA Merit Award. Kornbluth will also receive the 2017 Distinguished Investigator of the Year Award from the VA St. Louis Health Care System in April.