Staphylococcus aureus is a leading pathogen in surgical site and skin infections which are associated with an enormous unmet medical need. There are no licensed vaccines on the market despite the significant efforts by public and private initiatives. Indeed, vaccines tested in clinical trials in the last two decades have failed to show efficacy. Lack of known correlates of protection and reliable animal models are main reasons behind these failures. Skin is not only a major target of S. aureus infections of different severity, which often recur, but also the entry site for systemic infection and bacterial dissemination to distant sites. Since human skin is remarkably different from mouse skin, and S. aureus expresses several human-specific virulence factors, three-dimensional organotypic human skin models would represent a valid alternative to animal infection models. However, at present such models have not been established yet for S. aureus vaccine research.
The aim of this project is to study the role of staphylococcal virulence factors in the pathogenesis and immune evasion within the human skin. To this end, the project aims at characterizing how expression of virulence factors is affected by the interaction with the skin and conversely, how skin resident immune cells respond to the pathogen. DISSection is a multidisciplinary project where four PhD students contribute to the study of S. aureus infection of human skin from different angles.