Ph.D. candidate Kai Rogers successfully defends thesis

Kai Rogers and Wendy Maury

Kai Rogers successfully defended his Ph.D. thesis, "The role of macrophages in Ebola virus infection," on Friday, December 6, 2019, Kai is pictured here with mentor, Wendy Maury Ph.D.


Ebola virus (EBOV) causes sporadic outbreaks of severe hemorrhagic fever with mortality rates as high as 90%. While much of the pathogenesis remains uncharacterized, EBOV is thought to infect tissue macrophages (Mϕs) early during infection. Infection of Mϕs is highly productive, leading to increased viral load and facilitating systemic dissemination. This infectious process also stimulates the production of proinflammatory and immunomodulatory cytokines and chemokines, leading to a “cytokine storm”, while simultaneously increasing tissue factor production. This facilitates disseminated intravascular coagulation. These characteristics are hallmarks of hemorrhagic fever. My work has focused on several aspects of macrophage biology with the goal of identifying therapeutic targets to aid in the fight against this infection.

Mϕs are known to adopt a wide variety of phenotypes based on the chemical signals present in their environment. Broadly, these signals can induce either pro-inflammatory (M1) or anti-inflammatory (M2) effector phenotypes. We previously identified the M1 stimulus interferon gamma (IFN-γ) as a potent inhibitor of EBOV replication and found a strong protective effect in vitro and in mice. My work has built on these findings by demonstrating that M2 macrophages are more susceptible to EBOV and by identifying a key signaling pathway that alters the phenotype of Mϕs in response to EBOV infection. The logical application of these studies was to identify extrinsic factors that might skew Mϕ populations within the host and influence the response to EBOV. For this we turned to co-infection as a likely means by which this might occur. Using a rodent model of EBOV and Plasmodium co-infection we found that acute Plasmodium infection dramatically reduced mortality due to EBOV in an IFN-γ dependent manne and that this protective effect is long lasting.

In total, our studies build upon the existing literature by emphasizing the critical role of macrophages during EBOV infection, and provide a new model for understanding the critical factors that govern outcomes in EBOV infection.


About Kai

Kai was born in Salt Lake City, Utah as the oldest son of Jeff and Carole Rogers. As his family moved periodically to follow his fathers academic pursuits, he spent considerable time in Richmond, VA, Buffalo, NY and ultimately settled in Enumclaw, WA. Upon graduating (barely) from high school, Kai enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and spent several years as a tank mechanic, including a deployment to Iraq in 2009. During his time in the service, Kai recognized his passion for solving complex problems and a knack for improvisation (he has put a tank back together with duct tape). Upon returning from Iraq Kai enrolled in Spokane Falls Community College where he discovered an academic interest in the biomedical sciences which stemmed from his love of solving challenging problems.

Kai next transferred to the University of Washington to pursue a degree in “some aspect of the biology”, ultimately settling on Microbiology. During this time he worked in the laboratory of Dr. Raymond Monnat studying the beautifully complicated genetic disease Fanconi anemia (FA). It was under the guidance of Dr. Monnat that Kai gained an interest in biomedical research. As Dr. Monnat was an MD by training, Kai had the opportunity to shadow clinically and see several patients with FA. Seeing how basic research directly impacted the lives of patients coupled with the relentless encouragement of Dr. Monnat, Kai was pushed towards a career bridging science and medicine.

In pursuit of this endeavor, Kai enrolled in the University of Iowa Medical Scientist Training Program in 2014 and in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology graduate program in 2016. After several rotations, he decided to pursue training in Virology and has worked under the mentorship of Dr. Wendy Maury studying the role of macrophages in Ebola virus infection (his favorite virus even before he acquired a tremendous bias). After finishing his clinical rotations, Kai plans to train in a pathology residency, he will subspecialize in an area of clinical pathology, most likely transfusion medicine or hemepath as they are very immuno-focused, and eventually work as a physician-scientist.

Outside of the lab, Kai primarily enjoys spending time with his wife Lalaña and their three children Cason, Ronin and Capri. He also has several bizarre hobbies including catching, raising, and photographing various arthropods. He is passionately interested in insect social behavior and harbors an obsession with ants. The answer to the question you aren’t asking is: his favorite ant is the weaver ant (Oecophylla spp.). Google it, you won’t be disappointed!

Monday, December 9, 2019