Dr. Karen Wozniak
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics
Dr. Karen Wozniak has always been interested in science, and decided on microbiology after taking AP Biology in high school. As an undergraduate, she became more interested in immunology and parasitology. In graduate school, she joined a lab studying immune responses towards fungal pathogens, and she has been hooked ever since.
Wozniak is interested in understanding how our innate immune cells (macrophages and dendritic cells) in the lung respond to inhaled fungal pathogens. These cells are a first-line defense against invading microorganisms, so their response is a critical first step. The main fungal organism she researches, Cryptococcus neoformans, enters through the lung but then can ultimately infect the brain, causing fungal meningitis. Containing this pathogen before it can spread to the brain is an important step in designing antifungal therapies towards this pathogen. She thinks the biggest factor in determining whether or not C. neoformans can spread to the brain is its initial interaction with the innate immune cells in the lung.
As a faculty member in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at OSU, Dr. Wozniak has enjoyed having undergraduate and graduate students join her lab and learn about immune responses to fungal pathogens. Her students usually start with little knowledge of fungal pathogens or immunology, but they quickly become experts and are excited to work in the fungal immunology field.
As a fungal immunologist, she is involved in several organizations with her medical mycology colleagues. She serves as the treasurer for the Medical Mycological Society of the Americas (MMSA) and she has also been involved in the South Central Medical Mycology (SCMM) conference since it began while she was a graduate student. In fact, she hosted the SCMM annual conference at OSU in November 2019.
Dr. Wozniak is excited to continue her research and training of students in her lab. With her research efforts in the field of fungal immunology, she plans to make an impact understanding how the innate immune cells can defend against these pathogens. These findings will help to develop immune therapies to treat fungal infections.