top of page


The assembled team of project leaders represents a highly collaborative group of investigators who have worked together for the past two decades on various aspects of tick-borne infection research. Each Principal Investigator or PI brings specific expertise to the Research Projects and Technical or Administrative Core. Our team encompasses substantial expertise in entomology, microbiology, immunology, and infectious diseases.

Dr. Utpal Pal
Lead PI, Project 1 Leader

University of Maryland, College Park

Pal is a Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He serves as lead PI and is particularly involved in the characterization of cross-species immunity signals that influence the persistence of tick-borne pathogens in Project 1. He is a recognized expert in host-pathogen interactions and has led a number of critical discoveries in research on Lyme borreliosis, particularly in the area of Borrelia burgdorferi interactions with the tick vectors and the mammalian host, including the discovery of new tick receptors and immune molecules as well as novel signaling pathways that impact the life cycle of borrelial pathogens. Pal served on a subcommittee of the Tick-Borne Diseases Working Group, focusing on vaccines and treatment strategies under the 21st Century Cures Act. He was also elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. He has been continually funded by the NIH to study Lyme disease since 2006 and has published more than 84 peer-reviewed articles and authored or edited three books or chapters, including ones on Borrelia burgdorferi and its interactions with tick vectors. Read more

Fikrig Co-PI Yale Proj3.jpg
Dr. Erol Fikrig
Co-PI, Project 3 Leader

Yale University School of Medicine

Fikrig is the Waldemar von Zedtwitz Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, and Microbial Pathogenesis at Yale University School of Medicine. He is also an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and the Section Chief of the Section of Infectious Diseases within the Department of Internal Medicine at Yale. He is leading Project 3 as one of the most successful, productive, and senior leaders in vector-borne diseases and is internationally recognized for his seminal contributions in advancing the research involving tick-borne infections. His initial scientific studies contributed to the development of the first ever FDA-approved human Lyme disease vaccine. He has authored more than 330 research articles, including writing reviews and book chapters, and has led a number of pivotal discoveries in infectious diseases, particularly in tick-bone infections including Lyme disease, human granulocytic anaplasmosis, and West Nile virus. He is the recipient of many awards including an NIH Merit award and has continually been funded by major extramural sources including the NIH and the HHMI since the early 1990s. Read more

Pedra Co-PI UMB Proj2.jpg
Dr. Joao H. F. Pedra
Co-PI, Project 2 Leader

University of Maryland School of Medicine

Pedra is an Associate Professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. His research directed towards understanding the molecular and cellular events that enable host and arthropod vector immunity and breakthrough research make him ideal to lead Project 2. His laboratory uses modern techniques available in biochemistry, molecular, structural, and systems biology to comprehend fundamental interactions between the arthropod vector, the pathogen, and the mammalian host. He led the annotation of immune genes for the Ixodes scapularis genome project, and also spearheaded a study group to tackle the problem of genetic manipulation of obligate intracellular bacteria. His scientific contributions are related to the demonstration of anti-inflammatory properties of vector saliva on Toll-like and Nod-like receptor signaling pathways during pathogen colonization of the mammalian host. He also discovered that eicosanoids regulate an atypical NLRC4 inflammasome pathway upon rickettsial infection and determined the existence of a novel IMD circuit in the tick arthropod vector. He has been federally funded to study tick-borne diseases since 2007 and has published approximately 50 peer-reviewed articles. Read more

Munderloh Tick Core Dir UM.jpg
Dr. Ulrike Munderloh
Tick Core Director

University of Minnesota

Munderloh is a Professor in the Department of Entomology at UMN. Her many seminal discoveries regarding the cellular and molecular interactions between ticks and their associated pathogens and her capacity to disseminate research tools such as tick cell lines and microbial isolates to other researchers in the field, she is directing the Tick Resources Core. She and her colleagues have established a large number of cell lines from ticks of medical and veterinary importance, including Ixodes scapularis that are widely used by laboratories across the globe. Her group has used these cell lines to isolate several species of human and animal obligate intracellular tick-borne pathogens and symbionts, including Anaplasma phagocytophilum and the Ixodes scapularis symbiont, Rickettsia buchneri, sequenced and annotated their genomes, and analyzed their transcriptome during tick cell infection. Additionally, her lab contributed 22 of 30 Rickettsiales species for sequencing in the “Rickettsiales Genomes” project, and supplied 10 of the 14 isolates deposited in BEI. She has published more than 100 research articles and has been continuously funded by the NIH since the late 1990s. Read more


Scientific Advisory Board

Our team is also served by a Scientific Advisory Board, comprised of senior researchers of international reputation relevant to the Research Projects. The Board is charged with regular meetings to discuss findings, strategic planning, and troubleshooting throughout the project.

Dr. Jorge L. Benach
Stony Brook University

Renaissance School of Medicine

Dr. Guy H. Palmer
Washington State University

School for Global Animal Health

Benach is the Distinguished Toll Professor of Molecular Genetics & Microbiology and Pathology in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology at Stony Brook University. His major research focus is on the pathogenesis of spirochetal infections and their host responses, particularly in the developmental bactericidal antibodies that work independently of the complement system. He is also interested in the interaction of spirochetal outer surface components with host proteases to enhance invasiveness, and to understand how this borrowed proteolytic activity enhances penetration of these organisms into the central nervous system. Read more

Palmer is the Regents Professor of Pathology and Infectious Diseases and the Jan and Jack Creighton Endowed Chair & Senior Director of Global Health at WSU. As the founding director of WSU’s Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health, he currently leads university-wide efforts as Senior Director of Global Health. He leads global health programs in Africa and Central America as well as directing the Robert R. Fast Infectious Diseases Research Laboratory. He also holds a joint appointment at the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology and directs the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation supported Integrated PhD Program between WSU and the Nelson Mandela African Institution of Science and Technology. Read more

Dr. Marcelo Jacobs-Lorena
Johns Hopkins University

Bloomberg School of Public Health

Jacobs-Lorena is a Professor in Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Department of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology with the Center for Global Health and the Malaria Research Institute. His main areas of research include genetic modification of mosquito vectorial capacity, mosquito-Plasmodium interactions, gene expression during Plasmodium development in the mosquito, and structure and function of the peritrophic matrix (PM). Read more

bottom of page