Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Center for Global Infectious Disease Research, Adjunct Associate Professor of Microbiology and Global Health
Dr. Rajagopal’s research interest is to understand bacterial disease pathogenesis and pregnancy associated infections that lead to adverse birth outcomes. The human pathogens that she and her lab study include bacterial organisms that infect humans such as Group B Streptococcus (GBS) and more recently, how viruses such as the ZIKA virus causes fetal injury during pregnancy.
While bacteria such as GBS are commensal organisms, these bacteria can become disease-causing pathogens. GBS are commonly found in the recto-vaginal tract of healthy women but infections can lead to preterm births, stillbirths or severe disease in human newborns. GBS can also infect adults that include the elderly, immunocompromised and diabetic individuals. Studies from the Rajagopal’s laboratory determined the hemolytic toxin found in GBS was not a protein, as previously believed, but a different cell structure known as a lipid (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23712433). The finding may prevent the development of a vaccine for GBS, because the molecular structure of lipids prevents the toxin from being inactivated by antibodies — the traditional way that vaccines neutralize toxins made of protein molecules. More recently, the group has shown that the GBS hemolytic toxin destroys neutrophils and evades neutrophil extracellular traps in the placenta leading to fetal injury and preterm labor (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27819066). Additional studies to understand how GBS causes disease during pregnancy and in neonates are in progress.
Studies from the Rajagopal laboratory also showed that ZIKA virus infections cause fetal injury using pregnant animal model systems (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27618651). Further studies to develop therapeutic models to prevent viral infections during pregnancy are in progress.
A complete list of the Rajagopal lab publications can be found here.