Doctoral student Lauren Kinkead defends PhD thesis

Lauren Kinkead and Dr. Lee-Ann Allen

Lauren Kinkead successfully defended her PhD thesis, "Mechanisms of human neutrophil apoptosis inhibition by Francisella" on Monday,  April 17, 2017.  She is pictured here with her mentor, Dr. Lee-Ann H. Allen.


Francisella tularensis is a Gram-negative, facultative intracellular bacterium and the causative agent of the zoonosis tularemia. Inhalation of as few as ten organisms can cause a severe pneumonic disease with a mortality rate reported to be around 30-60% in untreated cases. Due to its highly infectious nature, ease of aerosolization, and high mortality rate, the CDC considers this organism a Tier 1 select agent and potential bioweapon. The pathogenicity of F. tularensis is dependent on its ability to modulate host immune responses; of note, neutrophils contribute to tissue destruction and disease severity. In previous work, our laboratory demonstrated that this bacterium inhibits neutrophil apoptosis by interfering with the major apoptotic pathways. How this inhibition occurs is incompletely defined, but our published data suggest secreted factors function in this process. My dissertation research focused on the characterization of the factors that inhibit neutrophil apoptosis and the survival signaling involved in mediating this inhibition.

My studies identified a role for PI3K, p38 MAPK, as well as NF-κB activation in F. tularensis-mediated neutrophil apoptosis inhibition. In addition, my research revealed that extracellular lipoproteins derived from F. tularensis altered neutrophil lifespan in a TLR1-dependent manner. Lastly, my studies demonstrated the conservation of this aspect of virulence in the related strain, F. novicida.

About Lauren

Lauren was raised in Omaha, Nebraska and is the oldest of three children born to Steve and Teri Kinkead. She attended Central High School where her interest in science began. 

After high school, Lauren enrolled at Minnesota State University (MNSU), Mankato to pursue a degree in nursing. The following summer, however, she realized that the classes she enjoyed the most that year were the first-year science courses required for her major. She decided to focus more on taking science courses and exploring careers in that field.

Lauren was accepted into the Summer Undergraduate Research Program during her sophomore year at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).  She began working in Dr. Paul Fey’s laboratory at UNMC the following May; her research focused on phenotypic variation in Staphylococcus epidermidis TCA cycle mutants. After returning to school, she declared a major in microbiology. The following summer she returned to the Fey laboratory at UNMC and continued studies of the macromolecular synthesis operon in S. epidermidis. She also spent three semesters in the laboratory of Dr. Timothy Secott at MNSU examining the viability of dormant, VBNC Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis. After graduation, Lauren joined Dr. Fey’s laboratory at UNMC as a laboratory technologist and continued research on the effects of TCA cycle mutations on antibiotic susceptibility in S. epidermidis.

Lauren entered the graduate program in the Department of Microbiology in August of 2011 and joined the laboratory of Dr. Lee-Ann Allen in the Iowa Inflammation Program. Here, she pursued her dissertation research focusing on the mechanisms of human neutrophil apoptosis inhibition by Francisella tularensis.

Outside of the lab, Lauren enjoys trying out new restaurants and breweries, traveling, and spending time with her fiancé, Patrick, and her new pup, Ophelia.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017