Marna E. Ericson, PhD

T Lab, Inc.- Director of Research
Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota, Medical Research Center- Adjunct Faculty
Austin, MN

Bartonella henselae Detected in Malignant Melanoma

Our goal is to understand the mechanism(s) of infection and persistence of vector-borne infectious diseases by investigating disease pathology, disease progression and co-morbidities in individuals infected with vector-borne pathogens such as Borrelia, Bartonella and Babesia. These pathogens are under-diagnosed due to their unique mechanisms of sequestration (biofilms) in tissues and blood, their fastidious and unique growth characteristics in vitro and their dynamic growth properties within the host. Formerly Marna was director of the Cutaneous Imaging Lab in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota, assistant professor for 20 years. Currently, she is a fellow at Fellow at Think, Lead & Innovate Foundation, an Adjunct Faculty member at the Hormel Institute, University of Minnesota and serves as the Director of Research at TLAB, Inc., in Gaithersburg, MD. TLAB is a medical diagnostic lab using molecular microscopy to identify the presence of vector-borne pathogens in blood and skin. Dr. Ericson specializes in advanced microscopy imaging techniques including multi-photon laser scanning microscopy, second harmonic generation, correlative microscopy, TEM and SEM, live imaging, and super-resolution microscopy.
These techniques have afforded unprecedented views, literally, of the wide range of tissues in which these pathogens can be detected. Recognition of the dermis as being a niche for Bartonella spp., in biofilms, has advanced our understanding of mechanisms of persistence and presents new opportunities for new treatment modalities. Collaboration with colleagues who have expertise in molecular biology, microbiology, dermatology, oncology, infectious diseases and nanotechnology has yielded invaluable new insights on the importance of biofilms in skin and other organs as well as the vascular system including both blood and lymphatic vessels. The multi-pronged approaches provide new insights and improved methods for detection and diagnosis for vector-borne diseases and life-altering co-morbidities.


Bartonella henselae Detected in Malignant Melanoma, a Preliminary Study

Bartonella bacilliformis (B. bacilliformis), Bartonella henselae (B. henselae), and Bartonella quintana (B. quintana) are bacteria known to cause verruga peruana or bacillary angiomatosis, vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF)‐dependent cutaneous lesions in humans. Given the bacteria’s association with the dermal niche and clinical suspicion of occult infection by a dermatologist, we determined if patients with melanoma had evidence of Bartonella spp. infection. Within a one‐month period, eight patients previously diagnosed with melanoma volunteered to be tested for evidence of Bartonella spp. exposure/infection. Subsequently, confocal immunohistochemistry and PCR for Bartonella spp. were used to study melanoma tissues from two patients. Blood from seven of the eight patients was either seroreactive, PCR positive, or positive by both modalities for Bartonella spp. exposure. Subsequently, Bartonella organisms that co‐localized with VEGFC immunoreactivity were visualized using multi‐immunostaining confocal microscopy of thick skin sections from two patients. Using a co‐culture model, B. henselae was observed to enter melanoma cell cytoplasm and resulted in increased vascular endothelial growth factor C (VEGFC) and interleukin 8 (IL‐8) production. Additionally, the two tissues also were found to have BRAF mutations, an oncogene expressed in up to 70% of melanomas. Findings from this small number of patients support the need for future investigations to determine the extent to which Bartonella spp. are a component of the melanoma pathobiome. Being at the frontier of understanding the role of the microbiome in cancer, we will discuss some new papers on this topic and future research plans.

This activity received educational support from:

Steven & Alexandra Cohen Foundation



And commercial support from:

IGeneX Inc.

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