James M. Wilson
Director, University of Pennsylvania Molecular Therapy for Cystic Fibrosis
James M. Wilson, MD, PhD
Dr. Wilson is interested in the study of inherited diseases and the development of effective therapies. One theme is the evaluation of cell biology relevant to organs
affected in inherited diseases such as the lung in cystic fibrosis, the muscle in inherited muscular dystrophies and the liver in inborne errors of metabolism.
Dr. Wilson's group uses animal models to evaluate the regenerative capacity of these organs as well as the existence of stem cells. In characterizing cystic fibrosis,
Dr. Wilson's laboratory helped identify a defect in the innate immune system of the lung which contributes to the chronic airway respiratory infections characteristic
of this disease. Molecules are present in the airway surface fluid which contribute to host defense; these have been characterized as a prelude to evaluating how they
are deranged in CF. Therapeutic interventions primarily emphasize the use of somatic gene transfer to correct inherited defects. A number of studies utilize vectors
based on DNA viruses such as recombinant adenovirus and adeno-associated virus (AAV). Dr. Wilson's group has discovered a new family of AAVs in human and nonhuman primates
and shown they undergo substantial recombination in vivo. They appear to be excellent gene transfer vectors. More recently, Dr. Wilson's group has exploited the biology
of the lentiviral vector to achieve stable and long-term gene transfer in non-dividing cells.
Dr. Wilson's studies of immune responses to gene transfer vectors suggested the use of these constructs in eliciting immune responses in the setting of vaccines.
The basic concept is to utilize a recombinant adenovirus to activate T and B cell responses to gene products derived from other human pathogens thereby providing
protective immunity to these pathogens. The focus of this work is the development of vaccines against biologic weapons and emerging infections such as Ebola virus
and SARS coronavirus. Dr. Wilson's group is directly involved in the study of these pathogens in specialized containment facilities at Penn and collaborating institutions.