Assistant Professor of Microbiology and Immunology
BiographyDr. Natasa Strbo is a basic and translational immunologist, assistant professor on a tenure-track at the Department of Microbiology and Immunology Miller School of Medicine, University of Miami. She pioneered research on molecular and cellular mechanisms of heat shock protein gp96 and developed vaccines against emerging infectious diseases and cancer that are based on secreted heat shock protein gp96-Ig. She made numerous achievements in translational approaches to prevent emerging infectious diseases and cancer with several internationally patented inventions. Her work has furthered the understanding of gp96-Ig vaccination on mucosal/epithelial immune system and induction of antigen specific immune responses. Her accomplishments in emerging infectious disease vaccine development include pre-clinical vaccine efficacy studies against simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) that has demonstrated significant, though limited, protection against SIV acquisition and led to subsequent development of HIV, malaria, Zika and recently SARS-CoV-2 gp96-Ig vaccine platforms. Dr. Strbo accomplishments in cancer vaccine development include the pre-clinical tumor immunotherapeutic studies that led to the phase 1 and 2b clinical trials for immunotherapy of non-small cell cancer. In addition, Dr. Strbo lab generated one of the humanized mouse models that were used for HIV and HTLV pathogenicity and vaccine protection studies. More recently, Dr. Strbo has been studding skin and reproductive tract immunology, in particular innate-like subset of T cells, gamma delta T cells. Dr. Strbo’s recent work on the host-microbial interactions and novel antimicrobial pore-forming protein, Perforin 2, pioneered strategies to regulate skin antibacterial immune responses in gamma delta T cell and keratinocytes.
Dr. Strbo obtained her medical degree (1996) from Medical School University of Rijeka, Croatia. After completion of internship (1997) at the Center for Emergency Medicine Clinical Hospital Rijeka, Croatia, she became research fellow and later instructor/teaching assistant at the Department of Physiology and Immunology, Medical School University of Rijeka, Croatia. She obtained her master’s degree in 1999 and the same year started graduate school. During graduate studies, Dr. Strbo spend 2 years as a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Eckhard Podack’s lab at Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Miller School of Medicine University of Miami. After graduation, in 2004, she joined Dr. Podack’s lab as a Senior Scientist and continued her research on heat shock protein under his mentorship. She also worked as a NIH volunteer in Dr. Genoveffa Franchini NCI/NIH lab for two years. In 2013 Dr. Strbo was appointed to Research Assistant Professor at Department of Microbiology and Immunology Miller School of Medicine University of Miami and in 2019 she was approved tenure-earning track at the rank of Assistant professor.
Dr. Strbo received numerous Awards, including CTSI K2 scholar and Glaser Award. Dr. Strbo is recognized by The Miller Office of Research Honor for Teamwork and Core Director service on a program project grant and recently by Dean Ford as a member of multi-disciplinary team that decipher mechanisms of wound healing in skin and its impairments in patients.
Dr. Strbo’s research has been supported by NIH, DOD, and industry funding and her work has been published in over 50 peer reviewed journals.
Dr. Strbo is passionate about teaching, and she mentored numerous undergraduate, graduate, and medical students.
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Teaching InterestsDr. Strbo’s focus on teaching has been an important part of her life for over 20 years. She was trained as clinician-scientists in the field of Immunology. Although she spent some short time practicing medicine after graduating from medical school, she has continually felt herself pulled back to research and teaching. She worked as Instructor/Teaching Assistant at the Department of Physiology and Immunology Medical School Rijeka, Croatia for over 4 years. During her research career Dr. Strbo trained and mentored students in the lab and she is also teaching at Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the undergraduate and graduate program. She regularly participates as a lecturer in the Microbiology and Immunology Undergraduate program, Course Innate Immunity (MIC 319) and Specific Topics in Microbiology (MIC460). Also, she is teaching medical students enrolled in course Pathway of Emphasis in Immunologic Medicine & Infectious Diseases. Dr. Strbo is facilitator for medical students in the Problem Based Learning (PBL) course. She also participates, on the yearly basis, at Miami Dade Public Schools (MDPS) career day events and talks about her research to Elementary and Middle school students. Recently, together with her UM colleagues, she virtually participated in MDPS Dranoff’s PIANO SLAM education program, and talked about her research and COVID-19 vaccine development, educating Miami’s teens on the Science and COVID-19. Over 8000 students viewed the video in 41 middle and high schools.
In summary, Dr. Strbo teaching goals are: first, to give students the tools and raw materials to do the work and second, more difficult part, is to help students to develop ability to use the tools effectively.
Research InterestsOver the last two decades, numerous animal and human studies have confirmed that the secreted heat shock protein gp96 is effective in stimulating a robust cellular immune response against tumor and pathogen-derived antigens. Dr. Strbo uncovered the mechanism of gp96 induced APC maturation and cross-presentation followed by highly efficient priming of CD8+ and CD4+ T cell responses. She engineered secreted gp96-Ig vaccines against array of different emerging infectious pathogens such as: HIV/SIV, malaria, CMV, Zika and SARS-CoV-2. One of the vaccines, the gp96-Ig-simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) vaccine, has demonstrated limited but significant protection against mucosal infection by the highly pathogenic SIV. Recently, Dr. Strbo confirmed that gp96-Ig, secreted from allogeneic cells expressing full-length SARS-CoV-2 Spike (S) protein, generates powerful, polyepitope S protein-specific CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses in both lung tissue and airways. Dr. Strbo studies provide the opportunity to develop vaccine that will induce specific CD8 + T cells that can recognize conserved components of specific pathogens, therefore conferring heterosubtypic immunity and improving vaccine efficacy against novel virus variants.
Beside vaccine development against emerging infectious diseases, Dr. Strbo research is also focused on cancer immunotherapy and she believes that success of complete tumor rejection lies in the combined therapeutic approach. Dr. Strbo has extensive experience in testing gp96-Ig vaccine in different animal tumor models and currently, she is investigating the novel approach of using anti-hypoxia in combination with gp96-Ig vaccination to induce intra tumoral (IT) cytotoxic CD8 T cell and at the same time reverse the tumor induced immune suppression.
Over the last ten years Dr. Strbo has being actively involved in mucosal immunology studies as well as in discoveries of novel pore-forming protein Perforin-2 (P2) and host-microbial interactions in the skin, and reproductive tract. She was a member of the Dr. Podack’s research team that discovered new pore-forming molecule, P2. Dr. Strbo recent translational research interests aim to understand cellular and molecular basis of innate immune cells such as gamma delta T cells in different epithelial tissues, including skin. Dr. Strbo has establish collaboration with Drs. Tomic Canic and Pastar from Department of Dermatology to investigate how elements of the immune system contribute to the re-epithelialization of damaged skin in acute and chronic wounds. Dr. Strbo also has a long-standing experience in studies of maternal-fetal interface, with particular interest in the embryo implantation events and endometrial receptivity.
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