Anne Wertheimer, PhD

Gila Monster - Heloderma suspectum
  • Photo by Jerry Schudda

    Gila Monster – Heloderma suspectum

    Gila Monsters are slow moving, armored and one of only two species of venomous lizards in North America. Their skin is speckled with osteoderms or small bones that help to protect the animal. They tend to spend most of their time underground and are most active during their mating season in the spring and the summer monsoon rains when the humidity increases.

    Although their venom is not considered to be lethal, it can range from mild swelling to shock and serious swelling requiring hospitalization. It typically causes excruciating pain that will last for a few days. Because their venom is secreted in their saliva, they tend to clamp down and grind their teeth when biting, meaning that they often do not let go for upwards of 10 minutes. A component of Gila monster venom has also been copied for use in medicine to produce the type II diabetes mellitus medication Januvia.

My current research focuses on understanding the immune mechanisms involved in tissue damage as a result of acute traumatic wounds as well as exposure to natural toxins such as snake venom and chronic wounds with polymicrobial infections (primarily from diabetic foot ulcers). Our goal is to  incorporating our findings into design of a biosynthetic targeted antitoxins and antimicrobials allowing us to re-direct the immune mechanisms toward successful wound healing after a traumatic toxic insult. My research experience spans over two decades of basic science research into host response to infection combined with experience in the design; implementation and validation for commercial release of various FDA approved diagnostic immuno-assays.

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