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David Lo

Distinguished Professor of Biomedical Sciences
David Lo
Needle-free Drug Delivery
A challenge of worldwide health care is the safe, easy and inexpensive delivery of vaccines, particularly for protecting children. David Lo’s research on mucosal cell immunology promises needle-free vaccine delivery, as well as immune-boosting vaccines that target respiratory and intestinal mucosal tissues, the locus for much of the sickness and death in the developing world.

Areas of Expertise

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2007)
  • “Grand Challenges in Global Health” award, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Foundation for the National Institute of Health (2005)

Research Summary

Studying immune responses in the gut and airways (mucosal immunology); understanding the development and function of M cells (immune early warning system); designing new vaccines and needle-free delivery of vaccines.

Q&A

Q: Why is your work important? How does it benefit society?
Our immune system must distinguish infectious diseases from innocuous food antigens. A better understanding of mucosal immunology will explain why we develop food allergies or why we are susceptible to infections such as Salmonella. This knowledge is helping us design much more effective vaccines for diseases such as cholera, influenza, Dengue fever and HIV.

Q: Your research blends bioengineering with biomedical sciences. Why did you decide to blend the two fields? How did that happen?
Early vaccine development was often no more sophisticated than grinding up the infectious microbes and injecting them into people. If you were lucky enough to avoid getting the disease you were trying to prevent, you would be protected. By contrast, our strategy has been to use modern biomedical research to identify the key elements of successful immune responses, and then use bioengineering approaches to create synthetic versions with the most potent target effects and the fewest undesirable side effects. This strategy began a few years ago when I worked in the biotech industry, but it has become most successful since I arrived at UCR, where interactions with Dr. Dimitri Morikis and Victor Rodgers in the bioengineering department have opened up so many new possibilities.

Q: What doesn’t the public know or understand about vaccine research?
There seems to be an odd disconnect between people’s ready acceptance of the invisible technology of cell phones and jet planes, and their reluctance to rely on scientific consensus in areas such as our own health. Vaccines are well documented to provide protection to both individuals and communities, but there is an alarming trend toward lower vaccination rates among children and adults.

Q: Who is the most influential public voice in your field and what are they saying?
There can be a lot of noise out there that can confuse the public about the actual scientific consensus. It is the responsibility of universities such as UCR to give our students the knowledge and the voice to keep the discussion on track.

Q: How will your research relate to UCR’s new medical school?
This is an exciting time for biomedical research at UCR and for the whole region as we develop the new medical school. Research in our laboratories is directly helpful in the teaching of medical students both in the basic sciences and for application to clinical practice. My laboratory’s work in vaccine development is, of course, relevant to everyday clinical practice in the local community. Community partnerships are important to the medical school’s goals to improve health care in the region, particularly in underserved populations.

Q: If you had unlimited resources and no constraints, what would you do to further your research?
It is great to sit back and think about what you could do with unlimited resources, but the real limiting resource is time for careful thought. Is the research question big enough and important enough? Are we using the most effective strategy to answer our questions, or do we need to look at it from another perspective? How do we get people on board to understand the significance of what has been accomplished?

Q: What is it about UCR that makes this a great place to do your research?
A great strength of being at UCR is that there are so many different groups of brilliant people to discuss ideas with. We have had discussions on the impact of language on scientific precision, we have worked on insect allergens, and we have looked at the way nanoparticles behave at the surface of mucous membranes. All of this stimulates the mind by broadening our horizons, and helps us look at problems from new and unusual perspectives.
David Lo “Our strategy has been to apply biomedical research to identify the key elements of successful immune responses, and then bioengineer synthetic versions with the most potent target effects and fewer undesirable side effects.”

—David Lo
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