Dr. Suniti Bhaumik obtained her Ph.D. in Immunology from the Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, India, on developing a DNA vaccine and dendritic cell-based hybrid cell vaccine against Leishmaniasis. She completed her post-doctoral training in neonatology and mucosal immunology in Dr. Casey Weaver's lab at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Dr. Bhaumik studied the role of proinflammatory cytokine-IL-1b in the development of Th17 cells in the intestine, where gut resident dendritic cells (DCs) produce abundant amounts of retinoic acid, a suppressor of Th17 development. The fundamental nature of this finding is relevant to the emerging field of autoimmune diseases and cancer immunotherapy, where manipulation of Treg function (Treg plasticity or Treg fragility) is a viable treatment option.
A significant focus of Dr. Bhaumik's research as a staff scientist was the development and function of effector and regulatory CD4+ T cell subsets (Treg) during chronic colitis. Her finding demonstrated that despite being the master transcription factor for Th17 cells, RORgt regulates the suppressor function of colonic Tregs to prevent chronic colitis. She also studied the mechanism of gut-brain interaction during inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) by examining how proinflammatory CD4+T cells travel to the brain, causing inflammation in the CNS and neuropathology.
Ph.D. research: To formulate a DNA-based vaccine strategy against both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant forms of Leishmania donovani, Dr. Bhaumik cloned a membrane protein of the parasite KMP-11 in a mammalian expression vector and tested both the prophylactic and therapeutic efficacy of the DNA vaccine in murine and hamster models. Furthermore, to increase the therapeutic efficacy of the DNA vaccine, she developed a Dendritic Cell-based Hybrid cell vaccine (HCV), where KMP-11 DNA transfected macrophages were electro-fused with allogenic DCs to increase the MHC-class I restricted cytotoxic lymphocyte (CTL) response. She tested the therapeutic effect of HCV in the clearance of parasites from the spleen and liver of infected animals.
Post-doctoral research: Dr. Bhaumik investigated why preterm babies are susceptible to infections. The neonatal CD4+ T cell compartment contains a high frequency of recent thymic emigrants (RTEs) in contrast to the small proportion found in adults. RTEs are the youngest subset of naïve T cells that have recently entered the periphery after emerging from the thymus. Her research showed that hypersensitivity to vitamin A helped RTEs function as suppressor T cells, and, as a result, preterm babies can't mount strong effector T cell responses against infections.