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  September 4, 2000

Expert on Tick-Transmitted Diseases
Joins UConn Health Center

An internationally recognized expert in tick-transmitted diseases has joined the UConn Health Center faculty. Stephen K. Wikel has been appointed professor of physiology and will serve in the Center for Microbial Pathogenesis.

Wikel will be part of a research team headed by Justin Radolf. The two researchers have collaborated on a number of studies over the years, but never at the same university. "I am thrilled to have Stephen here. He is an outstanding researcher and praiseworthy collaborator," says Radolf.

The focus of Wikel's research will be the cellular and molecular immunology of the tick-host pathogen interaction and how it works. When ticks feed on blood, Wikel says, they emit various agents into the host to prevent blood clotting, and the itch and pain response. Those agents also impair the immune defenses of the host and allow such bacteria as Borrelia burgdorferi, which causes Lyme disease, to be transmitted by the tick to the host and cause infection.

"Ticks trick the host with their ability to suppress immunity. We are isolating and identifying the molecules from tick saliva that inhibit immunity and cloning the genes for those molecules. The goal of our research is to develop a vaccine that blocks those molecules essential for tick feeding and transmission of disease," says Wikel. "The vaccine would work against each individual tick-transmitted infectious agent to prevent disease from all types of ticks."

In addition to his teaching duties at the UConn School of Medicine, Wikel will continue as an instructor for a course sponsored by the John D. and Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the World Health Organization. The course deals with the biology of disease-transmitting insects and ticks and is held annually at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and at various academic sites abroad.

Wikel is a member of the Tropical Medicine and Parasitology Special Emphasis Primary Review Panel on Vector Biology at the National Institutes of Health.

He has published numerous articles in national and international journals and books and serves on the editorial boards of the professional journals Experimental Parasitology and Parasite Immunology.

Prior to his appointment at the Health Center, Wikel was at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, where he held an endowed chair in agricultural biotechnology and served as professor of entomology.

He also has served as professor at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine in Grand Forks, and held the title of Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of the University, and was a Fellow at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Rocky Mountain Laboratories, in Hamilton, Mont.

Jane Shaskan