Studying the Host-Microbe Détente at Epithelial Barrier Sites

Faculty: Dr. William McCoy

Dr. William McCoy uses multi-omics (microbiome and metabolomics) and traditional laboratory (microbiological and biochemical) approaches to understand how skin diseases are impacted by host-microbe interactions at epithelial barrier sites. Under the primary mentorship of Dr. Jeffrey Henderson and in collaboration with Dr. Makedonka Mitreva, his investigations seek to bridge microbial genomic information to downstream microbial and patient phenotypes. To support this initiative, Dr. McCoy leads multiple investigator-initiated studies to collect human-derived samples and clinical data. Through a collaboration with the Mitreva lab, Dr. McCoy has been investigating how skin microbial communities change during treatment with isotretinoin, a commonly prescribed systemic medication for acne. This medication acts on the patient to temporally change the skin microenvironment from greasy to wet to dry. Dr. McCoy’s microbiome work has identified multiple features of “healthy” microbial communities that increase during and remain elevated following treatment.

Dr. McCoy is studying this well-established, non-antimicrobial therapy as a model intervention to understand how non-antimicrobial therapies may be utilized to cultivate “healthy” human microbiota. In the Henderson lab, Dr. McCoy has followed up these genomic findings using metabolomics to evaluate the global metabolism of patient-derived bacterial strains. This work has identified novel microbial metabolites predicted to directly impact microbial community dynamics.

Understanding how microbes interact within a community and with their human host may lead to insights into how these organisms affect inflammatory cutaneous diseases (e.g. acne vulgaris, eczema, psoriasis) and systemic medical treatments (e.g. immune-checkpoint inhibitor, chemotherapy). Dr. McCoy plans to use this information to develop new therapies that spare commensal microbial flora essential for healthy human microenvironments (e.g. skin, mouth, gut). By selectively targeting microbial communities, he hopes to help minimize the “collateral damage” (Clostridium difficile infection, antibiotic resistance) that can result from routine and frequent antibiotic use in acne and other skin diseases.