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Bomberger Lab

Principal Investigator

Jennifer Bomberger, PhD
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445 Bridgeside Point II
450 Technology Dr.
Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Research Description

Viral-bacterial interactions in the lung.  A principal focus in the Bomberger lab is exploring the mechanistic basis by which viral infections promote the development of chronic bacterial infections in the lung, particularly in the setting of chronic lung diseases, like Cystic Fibrosis (CF), bronchiectasis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Dr. Bomberger’s recent publications provide compelling evidence that respiratory viral infections, and the antiviral immune response to them, drive P. aeruginosa to transition from acute to chronic infection. Current studies in the lab are focused on elucidating molecular mechanisms that govern the innate immune induction of biofilm in the lung. Working to take her work from the bench to the bedside, Dr. Bomberger collaborates with Dr. Stella Lee in Otolaryngology at UPMC to examine viral-bacterial interactions in the sinuses of patients with chronic lung disease. The goal of these studies is to examine the adaptation and transmission of P. aeruginosa between the upper and lower respiratory tracts during viral exacerbations. These studies include novel genomic approaches, in collaboration with Dr. Vaughn Cooper in MMG, to capture the P. aeruginosa diversity in both anatomical sites and determine if this is altered with viral infection in a way that promotes disease progression. The long-term goal of this collaborative project is to translate observations at the bench to new therapeutic strategies to prevent chronic bacterial infections in patients with chronic rhinosinusitis, focusing on iron chelation therapy. 

P. aeruginosa targets pro-resolving lipid mediators in the lung. Approximately ninety-five percent of deaths in CF are attributed to P. aeruginosa infection and the resulting chronic inflammatory response in the airway. Lipoxins are bioactive eicosanoids that mediate resolution of inflammation and are dramatically reduced in the CF airway. Dr. Bomberger’s laboratory has demonstrated that a secreted P. aeruginosa protein Cif reduces lipoxins in the airway and thus, prevents the resolution of inflammation in the CF airways. These studies are the first to show bacterial inhibition of pro-resolving mediators, as well as describe a new bacterial virulence mechanism. In addition to Cif’s regulation of lipoxin in the airways, Dr. Bomberger’s laboratory is also examining antimicrobial functions for lipoxin in the airways, with the long-term goal of adapting stable lipoxin orthologs for therapeutic applications in chronic lung disease. 

Identification of P. aeruginosa biofilm inhibitors.  Dr. Bomberger’s laboratory utilizes in vitro live-cell imaging systems to culture P. aeruginosa biofilms in association with host airway epithelial cells. Due to a lack of small animal models that suitably model P. aeruginosa biofilm growth in vivo, this model allows the study of bacterial biofilm development in the lung. In collaboration with Drs. Ronald Montelaro (MMG, Center for Vaccine Research) and Mark Gladwin (PACCM) at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Bomberger’s laboratory is developing new antimicrobial therapies that disrupt P. aeruginosa biofilms growing in the lung. Dr. Bomberger’s laboratory recently reported that an engineered antimicrobial peptide (WLBU2) disrupts incredibly antibiotic resistant bacterial biofilms grown during a viral coinfection, while concurrently reducing viral burden. Dr. Bomberger’s group has also studied the antibiofilm properties of sodium nitrite by targeting bacterial respiration pathways. Truly translating these sodium nitrite studies at the bench to the bedside, the Cystic Fibrosis Center at the University of Pittsburgh is funded to conduct a clinical trial to examine the efficacy of sodium nitrite as a novel antimicrobial therapy for Cystic Fibrosis patients.


Anna Zemke - Asistant Professor, Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine

Catherine Armbruster - Postdoctoral Associate

Paula Zamora Vargas - Postdoctoral Associate

Ananya Kapur - Research Technician