Education & Certifications

  • Bachelor of Science, Westmont College, Biology, Chemistry, Music (2016)

All Publications

  • A single-cell atlas of the peripheral immune response in patients with severe COVID-19. Nature medicine Wilk, A. J., Rustagi, A., Zhao, N. Q., Roque, J., Martinez-Colon, G. J., McKechnie, J. L., Ivison, G. T., Ranganath, T., Vergara, R., Hollis, T., Simpson, L. J., Grant, P., Subramanian, A., Rogers, A. J., Blish, C. A. 2020


    There is an urgent need to better understand the pathophysiology of Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the global pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2, which has infected more than three million people worldwide1. Approximately 20% of patients with COVID-19 develop severe disease and 5% of patients require intensive care2. Severe disease has been associated with changes in peripheral immune activity, including increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines3,4 that may be produced by a subset of inflammatory monocytes5,6, lymphopenia7,8 and T cell exhaustion9,10. To elucidate pathways in peripheral immune cells that might lead to immunopathology or protective immunity in severe COVID-19, we applied single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq) to profile peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from seven patients hospitalized for COVID-19, four of whom had acute respiratory distress syndrome, and six healthy controls. We identify reconfiguration of peripheral immune cell phenotype in COVID-19, including a heterogeneous interferon-stimulated gene signature, HLA class II downregulation and a developing neutrophil population that appears closely related to plasmablasts appearing in patients with acute respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation. Importantly, we found that peripheral monocytes and lymphocytes do not express substantial amounts of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Collectively, we provide a cell atlas of the peripheral immune response to severe COVID-19.

    View details for DOI 10.1038/s41591-020-0944-y

    View details for PubMedID 32514174

  • Charge-altering releasable transporters enable phenotypic manipulation of natural killer cells for cancer immunotherapy. Blood advances Wilk, A. J., Weidenbacher, N. L., Vergara, R. n., Haabeth, O. A., Levy, R. n., Waymouth, R. M., Wender, P. A., Blish, C. A. 2020; 4 (17): 4244–55


    Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) natural killer (NK) cells are an emerging cell therapy with promising results in oncology trials. However, primary human NK cells are difficult to transfect, hampering both mechanistic studies and clinical applications of NK cells. Currently, NK cell CAR modification relies on viral vectors or cell activation. The former raises cost and tolerability issues, while the latter alters NK cell biology. Here, we report that readily synthesized and inexpensive nonviral charge-altering releasable transporters (CARTs) efficiently transfect primary human NK cells with messenger RNA without relying on NK cell activation. Compared with electroporation, CARTs transfect NK cells more efficiently, better preserve cell viability, and cause minimal reconfiguration of NK cell phenotype and function. We use CARTs to generate cytotoxic primary anti-CD19 CAR NK cells, demonstrating this technology can drive clinical applications of NK cells. To our knowledge, CARTs represent the first efficacious transfection technique for resting primary human NK cells that preserves NK cell phenotype and can enable new biological discoveries and therapeutic applications of this understudied lymphocyte subset.

    View details for DOI 10.1182/bloodadvances.2020002355

    View details for PubMedID 32898247

  • Diversification of human NK cells: Lessons from deep profiling. Journal of leukocyte biology Wilk, A. J., Blish, C. A. 2018


    NK cells are innate lymphocytes with important roles in immunoregulation, immunosurveillance, and cytokine production. Originally defined on the functional basis of their "natural" ability to lyse tumor targets and thought to be a relatively homogeneous group of lymphocytes, NK cells possess a remarkable degree of phenotypic and functional diversity due to the combinatorial expression of an array of activating and inhibitory receptors. Diversification of NK cells is multifaceted: mechanisms of NK cell education that promote self-tolerance result in a heterogeneous repertoire that further diversifies upon encounters with viral pathogens. Here, we review the genetic, developmental, and environmental sources of NK cell diversity with a particular focus on deep profiling and single-cell technologies that will enable a more thorough and accurate dissection of this intricate and poorly understood lymphocyte lineage.

    View details for PubMedID 29350874

  • Bordetella PlrSR regulatory system controls BvgAS activity and virulence in the lower respiratory tract. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America Bone, M. A., Wilk, A. J., Perault, A. I., Marlatt, S. A., Scheller, E. V., Anthouard, R. n., Chen, Q. n., Stibitz, S. n., Cotter, P. A., Julio, S. M. 2017; 114 (8): E1519–E1527


    Bacterial pathogens coordinate virulence using two-component regulatory systems (TCS). The Bordetella virulence gene (BvgAS) phosphorelay-type TCS controls expression of all known protein virulence factor-encoding genes and is considered the "master virulence regulator" in Bordetella pertussis, the causal agent of pertussis, and related organisms, including the broad host range pathogen Bordetella bronchiseptica We recently discovered an additional sensor kinase, PlrS [for persistence in the lower respiratory tract (LRT) sensor], which is required for B. bronchiseptica persistence in the LRT. Here, we show that PlrS is required for BvgAS to become and remain fully active in mouse lungs but not the nasal cavity, demonstrating that PlrS coordinates virulence specifically in the LRT. PlrS is required for LRT persistence even when BvgAS is rendered constitutively active, suggesting the presence of BvgAS-independent, PlrS-dependent virulence factors that are critical for bacterial survival in the LRT. We show that PlrS is also required for persistence of the human pathogen B. pertussis in the murine LRT and we provide evidence that PlrS most likely functions via the putative cognate response regulator PlrR. These data support a model in which PlrS senses conditions present in the LRT and activates PlrR, which controls expression of genes required for the maintenance of BvgAS activity and for essential BvgAS-independent functions. In addition to providing a major advance in our understanding of virulence regulation in Bordetella, which has served as a paradigm for several decades, these results indicate the existence of previously unknown virulence factors that may serve as new vaccine components and therapeutic or diagnostic targets.

    View details for DOI 10.1073/pnas.1609565114

    View details for PubMedID 28167784

    View details for PubMedCentralID PMC5338435