Author: Marlene Zajaczkowski

Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja and Ms. Skylar Wright’s Paper Published in Cell Reports

Congratulations Dr. Sivapriya Kailasan Vanaja and Ms. Skylar Wright for having their paper, “A bacterial toxin co-opts caspase-3 to disable active gasdermin D and limit macrophage pyroptosis”  published in the journal Cell Reports. The paper, first-authored by Ms. Skylar Wright, a graduate student, identified a novel molecular mechanism by which a clinically significant human pathogen, Enterohemorrhagic E. coli, utilizes its virulence factor, Shiga toxin, to effectively suppress host protective noncanonical inflammasome responses.

Dr. Kailasan Vanaja and Skylar Wright

Dr. Penghua Wang’s Paper Published in Nature Communications

Congratulations to Dr. Penghua Wang and his laboratory for having their paper, “UBR5 promotes antiviral immunity by disengaging the transcriptional brake on RIG-I like receptors" published in the journal Nature Communications ( This study screens 375 definite ubiquitin ligases and identifies that UBR5 promotes RIG-I like receptor transcription epigenetically and antiviral immunity.   Dr. Duomeng Yang is the first the author. Immunology Chairman Dr. Anthony Vella and Department of Medicine faculty member Dr. Yanlin Wang also contributed to this work.

Dr. Kepeng Wang

We remember our colleague and friend Dr. Robert Cone

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Robert (Bob) Cone, a great friend and colleague to so many at UConn Health. First and foremost, Bob was a native New Yorker, who had the indominable spirit of his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. After having graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brooklyn College, he uprooted himself – like the baseball team – to greener educational pastures. His inaugural stop was Tallahassee and Florida State University, where he obtained a Master of Science degree. He then proceeded west to Ann Arbor, to pursue his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. Continuing his scholastic journey, Bob reversed geographical course and next headed as far east as one could go, to Melbourne, Australia and the prestigious Walter and Eliza Hall Institute for Medical Research. There, he completed post-doctoral training under the tutelage of eminent researchers Sir Gustav Nossal and Nobel Laureate Sir Macfarlane Burnet. At every step of the way, Bob distinguished himself in all endeavors, leaving behind an early trail of accomplishments that would presage an illuminating professional career.

Professional accolade was first to come at Yale, in the department of Pathology and Surgery, where he became Director of the Histocompatibility Laboratory, and the school’s first Director of the Graduate Program in Immunology. Anecdotally, it was during his Yale tenure that Bob’s remarkable acuity led him to appreciate the significance of secreted subcellular structures that had previously garnered little attention, but subsequently burgeoned into the field of “extracellular vesicles.”  But it was after his move to UConn Health that Bob added new dimensions to his principal legacy.  It was here that he edified scores of students and post-docs – and, yes, faculty too!  Bob could rightfully claim being parent to the newly born field of neuroimmunology, having been among the earliest to recognize the immune privileged microenvironment of the eye, which is an outgrowth of the brain.  He later pioneered investigation of the role of the sympathetic nervous system in regulating immune activity, a relationship that, among other things, heralds new vistas in cancer immunotherapy.  In true allegiance to the etymology of the word, collegial, Bob possessed an incomparable ethos of academic spirit that triumphed over the exhausting nature of competitive science.  He met all questions to him with a unique mixture of scholarship and humor, and was never at a loss for time in congenially assisting others, no matter their position on the institutional totem pole.

Among his many awards and honors, Bob was recognized by Continental Who’s Who for being an “Outstanding Professor of Immunology.” He also was the recipient of a public service award in his capacity as Commissioner of the State of Connecticut Commission on Medicolegal Investigations.  In light of his respected expertise, Bob served on various review committees for The National Institutes of Health, The National Science Foundation, and The National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Bob Cone was a scientist for all seasons.

His memory and influence will endure in all those fortunate to have interacted with him.

He is survived by his wife Michele, his daughters Jennifer Ruth, Laura Cone, their husbands Bill Ruth, Peter Plano and his son Josh, and granddaughters Eleanor and Cordelia.

The family would like to extend their thanks to the UConn Health physicians and staff for their compassionate care.

Joel S. Pachter, Ph.D.

Professor, Department of Immunology

Dr. Robert Cone

Dr. Vijay Rathinam’s and Dr. Puja Kumari’s Paper Published in Nature Cell Biology

Congratulations to Dr. Vijay Rathinam and Dr. Puja Kumari for having their paper, 'Host extracellular vesicles confer cytosolic access to systemic LPS licensing non-canonical inflammasome sensing and pyroptosis’ published in the journal Nature Cell Biology. The paper first-authored by Dr. Puja Kumari, a postdoctoral fellow in the Rathinam lab, identified extracellular vesicles (EVs) secreted by host cells capture circulating bacterial ipopolysaccharide (LPS) and escort it to the cytosol of cells enabling non-canonical inflammasome sensing and cell death. The findings from this study provide insights into cytosolic immune surveillance of systemic microbial products.

Dr. Kepeng Wang

Dr. Kepeng Wang’s Paper Published in APSB

Congratulations to Dr. Kepeng Wang for having his paper, “Cancer immunotherapy with enveloped self-amplifying mRNA CARG-2020 that modulates IL-12,  IL-17 and PD-L1 pathways to prevent tumor recurrence” published in Acta Pharmaceutica Sinica B (APSB). The paper describes a novel oncolytic viral therapy for cancers that incorporates payloads targeting IL-12, IL-17, and PD-L1 signaling. Successful eradication of established colon and liver tumors in mouse models points to the agent’s potential in future clinical use in humans. Former postdoctoral fellow Dr. Ju Chen from Dr. Kepeng Wang’s lab is the leading author of the publication.  Please use this link to access the publication:

Dr. Kepeng Wang

Kepeng Wang Receives 2023 Osborn Award for Excellence in Biomedical Science Graduate Teaching

Dr. Kepeng Wang, Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology, was selected as the 2023 recipient of the Osborn Award for Excellence in Biomedical Science Graduate Teaching.  This award recognizes a UConn Health Graduate School faculty member for his or her commitment to providing the best education in the classroom and training in the laboratory. Congratulations Dr. Wang!

Dr. Kepeng Wang

Skylar Wright wins first place for best oral presentation at the 2023 Graduate Student Research Day

Congratulations to Graduate Student Skylar Wright for receiving first place for best oral presentation at the 2023 Graduate Student Research Day. Skylar is a member of Dr. Vijay Rathinam’s laboratory, and her project focuses on understanding how pyroptosis--an inflammatory form of cell death--is able to cause death in unstimulated bystander cells and contribute to widespread inflammation during bacterial infections.

Skylar Wright, Dr. Vijay Rathinam