Dr Kerstin Voelz PhD, FHEA

Lecturer in Eukaryotic Microbiology

School of Biosciences

Kerstin Voelz

Contact details

School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston
Birmingham
B15 2TT
UK

About

Dr Voelz is a lecturer in eukaryotic microbiology with a research interest in host-pathogen interactions. She investigates how fungal pathogens circumvent and hijack innate immune responses to establish disease using a zebrafish larval model. In particular she aims to decode how fungi initiate spore germination, why the immune system sometimes fails to inhibit this process and how this can be prevented.

Qualifications

PhD (University of Birmingham)
Biology Diplom (Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena, Germany)

Biography

Dr Voelz conducted her PhD research at the University of Birmingham on innate immune signalling during infections with the opportunistic fungal pathogen Cryptococcus neoformans and the development of the first fully characterized GFP-expressing cryptococcal strains. For this work she was awarded the Cell, Host & Microbe, Young Investigator Award, the Eukaryotic Cell, Outstanding Young Investigator Award and second place in the 2009 Promega UK Young Life Scientist Awards.

Her postdoctoral research focused on the emerging primary pathogen Cryptococcus gattii and how Cryptococcus-macrophage interactions relate to several novel outbreaks of cryptococcosis in immunocompetent individuals. For this work, she was awarded the 2nd place in the Sir Howard Dalton Young Microbiologist of the Year Competition 2011 by the Society for General Microbiology.

Dr Voelz then started her own line of research on the emerging fungal pathogenic group of zygomycetes. She established the zebrafish larva as a novel model system during an EMBO fellowship visit to Robert Wheeler’s laboratory at the Univeristy of Maine, US, before taking up her lecturer position to proceed with her research on host-pathogen interactions between innate immune cells and pathogenic zygomycetous fungi at the University of Birmingham.

Teaching

Dr Voelz is involved in a range of acivities teaching aspects of eukaryotic microbiology and host-pathogen interactions.

Currently, she teaches on the following modules:

  • BIO153 – Microbiology and infectious disease
  • BIO388 – Molecular and Cellular Immunology
  • BIOM21 – Core concepts and skills in microbiology
  • BIOM22 – Medical microbiology
  • BIOM23 – Host-pathogen interacions (module organizer)

Dr Voelz acts as a personal and academic tutor for undergraduate and master students. She regularly supervises undergraduate final year research, literature and cabinet projects as well as master student research projects.

She is also a visiting lecturer to the University of Grenoble under the Erasmus exchange scheme.

Postgraduate supervision

Dr Voelz is always interested to speak to individuals that are enthusiastic about research and who might wish to join the lab as an MSc or PhD student. For a list of available PhD studentships please see findaphd.com, or alternaively if you have your own funding please contact Dr Voelz directly (k.voelz@bham.ac.uk) to discuss options.

Dr Voelz also offers summer internships sponsored by the British Mycological Society (BMS) and Society of General Microbiology (SGM). These are typically aimed at undergraduate students entering their final year of their degree programme and offer laboratory-based projects for 8-12 weeks. Interested students should contact Dr Voelz directly (k.voelz@bham.ac.uk).

Research

The Voelz lab is interested in host-pathogen interactions. The lab's current research programme aims to significantly improve our understanding of the innate immune response during a fungal disease called mucormycosis in order to highlight immunomodulatory strategies to harness the host's immune system to improve patient outcomes. Dr Voelz's group uses an in vivo zebrafish larval model to investigate the interaction of infectious fungal spores with the host's innate immune system.

Mucormycosis is an emerging and clinically difficult to manage fungal infection with increasing incidence and extremely high mortality rates. Individuals with diabetes, suppressed immunity or traumatic injury are at particular risk of developing disease. These patients oeen present with defects in innate immunity, especially phagocytic effector cell function. However, lifle research on the innate immune response during mucormycosis has been conducted to date.

Traditional animal models do not provide insights into the cellular interactions between pathogens and host cells (e.g. immune effector cells). In recent years, the zebrafish model, Danio rerio, has become an accepted model system for the study of infectious diseases. The Voelz lab has recently established a zebrafish larval model for mucormycosis to study the molecular pathogenesis mechanisms involved in this fungal disease. The lab now uses the transparent larvae to examine the interaction between the host and fungal spores on a cellular level across the whole animal by microscopic real- time studies.

The lab is particularly interested in the following aspects of the interaction between fungal spores and the host innate immune system:

  1. Interaction with phagocytes
    The mechanism of spore uptake by phagocytes is currently unknown. The lab aims to characterize the receptors and mechanisms involved in recognition of fungal spores by phagocytic effector cells. Aeer phagocytic uptake phagosomes undergo a sequential maturation process that gradually creates a more and more inhospitable environment within the phagosome and usually culminates in microbial digestion. However, preliminary data show that that zygomycete spores are readily taken up by phagocyte but macrophages fail to digest spores and to induce a strong immunogenic response. Therefore, the lab endeavors to elucidate the phagocyte maturation process aeer uptake of fungal spore as well as the innate immune signaling response to fungal spores.
  2. Spore germination
    In healthy individuals, phagocytes efficiently inhibit spore germination and failure to inhibit spore germination is a major aspect of onset of mucormycosis. At the same time, initiation of spore germination requires appropriate regulation of gene expression. Hence, we are interested in the gene expression patterns during germination.

Other activities

Committees:

  • Founding member of University of Birmingham, College of Life and Environmental Sciences, Early Career Researcher Committee (PERCAT)
  • Member of the Biosciences ATHENA Swan committee,

Societies:

  • Member of the Society for General Microbiology,
  • Member of the British Mycological Society,
  • Member of the British Society for Medical Mycology,
  • Member of the American Society for Microbiology

Publications

L. Mendoza, R. Vilela, K. Voelz, A. S. Ibrahim, K. Voigt, S. C. Lee (2014) Chapter 27. Human Fungal Pathogens of Mucorales and Entomophthorales. Human Fungal Pathogens Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives.

Voelz K., H. Ma, E. J. Byrnes, S. Phadke, P. Zhu, R. A. Farrer, D. A. Henk, Y. Lewit, Y.- P.Hsueh, M. C. Fisher, A. Idnurm, J. Heitman, R. C. May (2013) Transmission of hypervirulence traits via sexual reproduction within and between lineages of the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii. PLoS Genetics 9:e1003771.

Hagen F., P.C. Ceresini, I. Polacheck, H. Ma, F. van Nieuwerburgh, T. Gabaldon, S. Kagan, E. R. Pursall, H. L. Hoogveld, L. J. J. van Iersel, G. W. Klau, S. M. Kelk, L. Stougie, K. H. Bartlett, K. Voelz, L. P. Pryszcz, E. Castaneda, M. Lazera, W. Mayer, D. Deforce, J. F. Meis, R. C. May, C. H. W. Klaassen, T. Boekhout (2013) Ancient dispersal of the human fungal pathogen Cryptococcus gattii from the Amazon rainforest. PLoS One 8:e71148.

Byrnes E. J. 3rd, W. Li, P. Ren, Y. Lewit, K. Voelz, J. A. Fraser, F. S. Dietrich, R. C. May, S. Chatuverdi, V. Chatuverdi, J. Heitman. 2011. A Diverse Population of Cryptococcus gattii Molecular Type VGIII in Southern Californian HIV/AIDS Patients. PLoS Pathog 7: e1002205.

Voelz, K., S. A. Johnston, J. C. Rutherford, and R. C. May. 2010. Automated Analysis of Cryptococcal Macrophage Parasitism Using GFPTagged Cryptococci. PLoS ONE 5:e15968.

Byrnes, E. J., 3rd, W. Li, Y. Lewit, H. Ma, K. Voelz, P. Ren, D. A. Carter, V. Chaturvedi, R.J. Bildfell, R. C. May, and J. Heitman. 2010. Emergence and pathogenicity of highly virulent Cryptococcus gattii genotypes in the northwest United States. PLoS Pathog 6:e1000850.

Voelz, K., S. A. Johnston, and R. C. May. 2010. Intracellular replication and exit strategies.J. Heitman, T. R. Kozel, K. J. Kwon-Chung, J. R. Perfect, and A. Casadevall (ed.), Cryptococcus: from human pathogen to model yeast. ASM press, Washington DC.

Voelz, K., and R. C. May. 2010. Cryptococcal interactions with the host immune system. Eukaryot Cell 9:835-846.

Voelz, K., D. A. Lammas, and R. C. May. 2009. Cytokine signaling regulates the outcome of intracellular macrophage parasitism by Cryptococcus neoformans. Infect Immun. 77: 3450-3457.

Burmester, A., M. Richter, K. Schultze, K. Voelz, D. Schachtschabel, W. Boland, J.Wostemeyer, and C. Schimek. 2007. Cleavage of betacarotene as the first step in sexual hormone synthesis in zygomycetes is mediated by a trisporic acid regulated beta-carotene oxygenase. Fungal Genet Biol 44:1096-1108.

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