Western College of Veterinary Medicine

Research Area(s)

  • Mycobacterial virulence factors, tuberculosis host-pathogen interactions and aerobiology


Dr. Chen obtained a B.Sc. (with Honours) degree in marine biology and biochemistry from Dalhousie University, and Ph.D. degree in molecular genetics and microbiology from the University of Toronto. He then completed a post-doctoral fellowship with support from the Canadian Lung Association and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Global Health Institute in Switzerland.

His research has focused on tuberculosis (TB) vaccines, and understanding mycobacterial physiology and mechanisms of virulence. In 2014 Dr. Chen joined VIDO-InterVac as a research scientist to lead the mycobacterial pathogenesis and tuberculosis research program.

Research Interests

    •    Mycobacterial virulence factors
    •    TB host-pathogen interactions and aerobiology
    •    Anti-TB vaccines and therapies
    •    Animal models of TB

The Mycobacterial Pathogenesis and Tuberculosis Research Program:

Members of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex (e.g. Mycobacterium bovis, Mycobacterium tuberculosis) are bacterial pathogens that cause tuberculosis (TB), a highly infectious disease that primarily target the lungs of mammals including humans.

The World Health Organization estimates M. tuberculosis killed 1.8 million and sickened 10.4 million people world-wide in 2015 alone. TB can be cured, provided infected patients adhere strictly to a daily multi-drug regimen over several months. Due to the lengthy therapy and side-effects of the drugs, many patients either do not comply with the prescribed regimen or prematurely cease chemotherapy altogether. As a result, multi- and extensively drug-resistant TB cases have emerged that are now untreatable and threaten to send TB incidence and mortality rates back to those seen during the pre-antibiotic era. There is a live attenuated TB vaccine for humans called BCG that has been in use for almost 100 years. Although it is safe and protective against TB in infants, its protective efficacy wanes over time and it does not provide protection against TB in adults.  

Bovine TB caused by M. bovis is endemic in developing and under-developed cattle-rearing countries. Overall, the disease causes significant financial losses (~$3-billion/year) to the global cattle industry. Moreover pockets of infection in wild-life in Canada, the US, UK and New Zealand serve as reservoirs of the disease. Due to its close relatedness to M. tuberculosis, M. bovis is becoming an increasingly serious cause of zoonotic TB infections especially in under-developed countries.

Clearly, more effective drugs and vaccines are urgently needed to combat TB in humans as well as in livestock. Our research takes an integrated approach of bacterial genetics, functional genomics and proteomics, cellular and molecular microbiology, chemical and structural biology, and animal model development, to better understand TB pathogenesis and transmission. The new knowledge that we gain will be exploited to develop better TB vaccines and drugs.

We are currently focused on three main areas:
    •    Understanding the role of the multi-component type-7 secretion system ESX-1 in TB host-pathogen interactions (NSERC-funded)
    •    Understanding the molecular basis of the live BCG vaccine’s deficiencies and developing better next generation vaccines (Banting Research Foundation-funded)
    •    Developing a porcine model of TB infection and transmission for evaluating novel vaccines and anti-TB drugs (Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation-funded)