About Jorge Frias-Lopez
After obtaining my PhD in Microbiology I went to work as a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where I worked in projects related to adquision of antibiotic resistance in members of the gut microbiome and on infectious polymicrobial disiease in corals. From there I moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where I developed a set of tools that facilitate the study of gene expression in whole microbial communities (metatranscriptome) and not just in one specific organism, thus opening the opportunity to better understand the role of microbes in health and disease as well as the way they communicate to each other and with their host. Before joining the University of Florida I worked at the Forsyth Institute (Cambridge, MA), where I was an Associate Member of the Staff at the Department of Microbiology and I served as its Vice-chair. Additionally I was a lecturer on Oral Medicine, Infection, and Immunity at the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. Since August 2016 I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Oral Biology at the School of Dentistry.
My research interests are concentrated on studying the ecology of the human microbiome focusing on the oral microbial community. I use oral polymicrobial diseases (periodontal disease) as a model to study and understand complex human microbial communities and the interactions among their members and with their host. Thus, the unifying theme of my work is to understand the role that microbial communities play in human health and disease. Periodontitis is a polymicrobial biofilm-induced inflammatory disease that occurs in moderate form in 30% to 50% of American adults and in severe form in 10% of adults and it is responsible for half of all tooth loss in adults. It is the sixth most prevalent health condition in the world affecting 743 million people worldwide. The total expenditure on treating and preventing periodontal diseases was estimated at $14B in the United States. In addition, recent studies have suggested that periodontal diseases can influence the risk for certain systemic conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, respiratory diseases, and can affect reproductive outcome. One main focus in my lab is using metatranscriptomic analysis to identify in situ gene expression of progressing and non-progressing periodontal sites to understand what causes the progression of the disease only in specific sites but not in others. The ultimate goal of this project is to define whether is the composition of the community or the metabolic activities of its components that ultimately cause disease progression. Although some organisms are highly associated with disease changes in composition alone do not explain disease progression. Another of my research interests is trying to understand how oral microbial communities are structured and what are the driving forces that shape them. Using system biology approaches (weighted correlation network analysis) we have identified bacterial modules in the pathogenic microbial community that were associated with disease. The use of these techniques facilitates the understanding of such a complex community as the oral microbial community. More importantly, within these modules we were able to single out organisms with high centrality (‘keystone’) within those modules. These organisms could act as ‘keystone’ species in the community. I have recently started a collaborative project to study the potential role that the oral microbiome plays in oral cancer. Oral squamous cell carcinoma (OSCC) is the most common oral cancer. The two most well- established etiologic factors in cancers of the oral cavity are alcohol and tobacco exposures. However, there is a void in our knowledge regarding the role that other environmental factors may play in OSCC development. Among them, the contribution of the oral microbiome is clearly understudied. Although the relationship between microbial community composition and OSCC has been thoroughly investigated, no clear association between microbial profiles and cancer status has emerged. We use a metatranscriptomic approach to profile RNA expression in the entire oral microbiome in OSCC and reveal molecular functions that could be associated with disease.
- Oral cancer
- Periodontal disease
- Systems biology