Nile Red-stained vesicles in A549 cells (📷 B. Hariri)
We're an academic research lab located in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia.  

A large focus of the lab is studying how airway cells sense and respond to infections.  One major focus is on the nose and sinuses, also known as the upper airway.

Chronic upper respiratory infections can result in chronic rhinosinusitis (CRS), a disease affecting 8-10% of the US population with direct healthcare costs of over 6 billion dollars annually. CRS has a major impact on quality of life, with CRS patients often suffering debilitating headaches from congestion and sinus pressure, a lack of ability to smell, and other detrimental symptoms.  CRS also has a major public health impact, as it accounts for 1 out of every 5 antibiotic prescriptions in adults in the US, making CRS treatment a major contributor to the emergence of antibiotic-resistant organisms. A continuing goal of our research is to better understand airway physiology to identify new and better therapies to treat CRS and other airway diseases without the use of antibiotics. We are particularly interested in the roles of bitter taste receptors (taste family 2 receptors or T2Rs), which detect bacteria in the airways and stimulate beneficial innate immune responses. We are studying how these receptors might be stimulated to enhance airway innate immunity as well as how genetic variations that alter their function might lead to disease. This work is carried out in collaboration with rhinologist surgeons Nithin Adappa, Jim Palmer, and Noam Cohen.

Another focus of the lab is cystic fibrosis (CF), the most common lethal recessive genetic disease in the US.  CF is characterized by altered fluid homeostasis in the lung, resulting in impaired mucociliary clearance and innate defense. Our goal is to better understand the molecular and cellular bases of airway epithelial changes in CF to help elucidate how to better treat the disease. This work intersects with taste receptors but also includes studies of the molecular mechanisms of airway submucosal gland fluid secretion, which is impaired in CF lungs.

A final focus on the lab is head and neck cancer. We recently found that T2R bitter taste receptors are expressed in oral and oropharyngeal cancer cells. Our data suggest that stimulation of these receptors might lead to activation of cell death (apoptosis) and thus stimulating these receptors might be a useful cancer therapeutic strategy. This work is being carried out in partnership with Dr. Ryan Carey, an ENT surgeon who is starting a lab as Penn faculty in August 2023.    

The tools we use include molecular biology, biochemistry, electrophysiology, and microbiology.  We specialize in using live-cell fluorescence and brightfield imaging to monitor real time cell function (physiology) in minimally invasive ways. 

Diversity Statement

We hope to create a welcoming and inclusive community that values and celebrates diversity, including but not limited to gender identity, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, nationality, age, disability, religion, marital or parental status, socioeconomic status, etc.  We recognize that scientific research is strengthened by a diverse workforce that brings different backgrounds, perspectives, ideas, and insights to the table to enhance productivity and innovation.  We will continue to strive to maintain an inclusive, respectful, professional, safe, and open environment in our lab where everyone feels valued and respected. While we value intellectual curiosity, rigorous scientific discussions, and asking hard questions about our data, we do not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or any other types of physical or emotional harm. We work everyday to maintain a "non-toxic" lab environment.