Lab Research Areas
The intestinal epithelium lies at the nexus of host-pathogen interactions and functions as a physical barrier as well as a sentinel for innate immune tissue with the ability to sense and respond to infectious agents. This functional diversity is achieved by the complexity of the epithelium, comprised of unique cell lineages that are continually replenished by intestinal stem cells (ISCs) residing at the crypt base.
Intestinal parasitic worms (helminths) are a unique example of highly invasive yet truly tolerable parasite that remains pervasive throughout the animal kingdom by manipulating host defense pathways to prioritize tissue adaptation and repair over parasite expulsion. This host defense strategy begins at the gut epithelium and is reciprocally regulated by helminths themselves.
The lab studies the interaction between helminths and the host epithelium, applying cutting-edge 3D organoid cultures, imaging, transcriptomics and in vivo genetic model approaches. Their goal is to explore the exciting concept that helminths directly target the epithelium to promote tissue integrity and maintain barrier formation.
For the past decade Dr. Danielle Karo-Atar has been trying to gain an understanding of how tissues respond to damage. She completed her doctorate at Tel Aviv University in Immunology, where she investigated Type 2 immune responses in various lung diseases, with an emphasis on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and the role of leukocytes in disease pathogenesis.
Interested in the applicability of science, she joined a start-up in a field close to her doctoral work, establishing a research laboratory, recruiting scientists, and effectively leading a research group within the private sector. She has several patent applications.
For her postdoctoral studies, Dr. Karo-Atar worked at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in the field of immunoparasitology. She was fascinated by aspects of disease tolerance during infection of the intestinal epithelium by enteric helminths, a unique example of an invasive yet tolerable group of parasites. These parasitic infections can last from weeks to years and involve multiple host tissues, yet mortality rates remain low, suggesting mechanisms aimed at maintaining tissue resilience.
As a faculty member in the Department of Pharmacology and Clinical Biochemistry at Ben-Gurion University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr. Karo-Atar heads the immunoparasitology lab that investigates how host fitness is maintained during chronic insults to the gut. She and her team hope to reveal novel parasite-regulated host epithelial pathways and identify new mechanisms of disease tolerance that contribute to intestinal resilience.