About the Hurwitz lab

Infectious diseases are among the leading causes of childhood morbidity and mortality globally. Therefore, the prevention of illnesses caused by viral and bacterial infections is imperative. We seek to strengthen our understanding of the immune response and apply new insights to vaccine development. The goal of our work is to prevent the morbidity and mortality associated with viral and bacterial infections, especially in children who suffer immunosuppression.  

Science Team

Our research summary

Effective vaccines are an important component of infectious disease management. To develop vaccines, we must first improve our understanding of the body’s immune response and the myriad of factors that affect outcomes. Our research focuses on unraveling the functionality of B and T cells.

We delve into environmental factors, such as vitamin levels in children, to assess how they impact the immune system’s response to viruses, bacteria, or vaccines. Understanding B and T cell functionality, and the factors that influence the immune response, guide our fundamental understanding and optimize our approach to vaccine development against infectious diseases.

Examination of nuclear receptor ligands in B and T cell functionality

When you vaccinate someone, how does the immune response work? When someone is challenged by a viral or bacterial infection, what occurs in the immune system? How are B cells triggered to make antibodies and how are T cells triggered to kill infected cells? These questions drive our study of the body’s immune response.

Most recently, our work examines nuclear receptor ligands, which include vitamins A and D, sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), thyroid hormones, and prednisone. Since these ligands influence B and T cell responses to viruses, bacteria, and vaccines, we ask how they regulate pertinent genes including immunoglobulin and T cell receptor genes. We use chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) studies to learn how nuclear receptor ligands and their corresponding nuclear receptors bind DNA and thereby influence the immune response.

A female scientist, sitting at a computer, reaches over to touch a piece of nearby equipment.

Vaccine development

The major focus of our laboratory is vaccine development. We direct our vaccine development efforts toward viruses such as parvovirus—the cause of aplastic crisis in children with sickle cell disease—and HIV. Some of our most exciting, recent work pertains to the development of a Sendai virus vector that serves as a two-for-one vaccine. The vaccine targets parainfluenza virus type 1 (PIV1)—the cause of croup in babies—and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently testing this vaccine in humans, and our partnership with the Serum Institute of India enables us to plan for large-scale clinical trials.

We also conduct research in an exciting, and highly publicized, arena of vaccine development that focuses on mRNA technology. We currently work to apply the mRNA platform to combat a number of different pathogens.

By combining our B cell and T cell research, our study of environmental factors that impact the immune response, and our comprehensive vaccine development effort, we are able to advance prophylactic approaches to manage infectious diseases in children. 

Publications

About Julia L. Hurwitz

Dr. Julia L. Hurwitz is a leader in the field of immunology who dedicates her extensive expertise and passion to vaccine development. She received her PhD from Johns Hopkins University and is a faculty member at St. Jude. In her laboratory, she leads a preventative infectious disease management approach as her team explores the mechanisms behind the immune response to viruses, bacteria, and vaccines in children.

The team

A collaborative laboratory that partners with internal and external scientists to advance vaccine research and combat infectious diseases.

Bart Jones

Bart Jones

Scientist

Photo of Sherri Surman

Sherri Surman

Scientist

Contact us

Julia L. Hurwitz, PhD
Member

Department of Infectious Diseases
MS 320, Room E8052
St. Jude Children Research Hospital

262 Danny Thomas Place
Memphis, TN, 38105-3678 USA
(901) 595-2464 julia.hurwitz@stjude.org
262 Danny Thomas Place
Memphis, TN, 38105-3678 USA
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