The Wilks Lab includes graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and staff within the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.


Kellie Hom, PhD Kellie Hom, PhD
Research Associate

Kellie received her PhD from the University of California, San Francisco, Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry. She is the Manager of the School of Pharmacy NMR Facility. Kellie’s projects range from utilizing NMR methods in the structural characterization of the bacterial HemO’s, protein-protein interactions, SAR and Fragment based screening by NMR in the design and synthesis of novel inhibitors.

Weiliang Huang, PhD Weiliang Huang, PhD
Research Specialist
2014 – Present

Weiliang received his PhD from the University of Queensland, Chemistry Department. He splits his time supporting the proteomics and bioinformatics core of the Mass Spectrometry Center with his projects in the Wilks lab. His projects in the Wilks lab are focused on determining the global response of heme and its metabolites in the pathogenesis of P. aeruginosa. Through proteomics and metabolomic approaches he has identified a central regulatory role for the heme metabolites, biliverdin IX beta and delta in the host-pathogen response.

Susana Mourino-Lopez, PhD Susana Mourino-Lopez, PhD
Post-Doctoral Fellow
2012 – Present

Susana received her PhD from the Department of Microbiology and Parasitology at Santiago de Compostela University in Spain. She is the resident gene jock!! Her research is focused on the transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of heme uptake in P. aeruginosa. Through a combination of bacterial genetics, biochemical, and metabolomic analysis we are investigating the link between extracellular heme flux and the transcriptional and post-transcriptional heme and biliverdin regulatory network. In collaboration with our colleague Amanda Oglesby-Sherrouse, Susanna is defining the role of the recently identified heme regulated sRNA PrrH in the regulation of heme uptake and metabolism.

Graduate Students:

Bennett Giardina Bennett Giardina
BS, Pennsylvania State University
2013 – Present

Bennett is studying the contributions of heme degradation to iron homeostasis and regulation of virulence in the opportunistic pathogens P. aeruginosa and A. baumannii. He recently purified and characterized the Acinetobacter baumannii HemO and has shown the product of heme degradation biliverdin is linked to an extracellular heme sensing system. These studies have led to the discovery of a novel transcriptional regulator that he is currently characterizing. Studies are underway to crystalize inhibitor bound P. aeruginosa and A. baumannii HemO proteins as well as the newly identified regulator. Bennett is also designing and developing several in cellulo fluorescence based assays for high-throughput screening of heme uptake and utilization in P. aeruginosa and A. baumannii.

Alecia Dent Alecia Dent
BS, University of Maryland, Baltimore County
2015 – Present

Alecia is studying the structure-function of the outer-membrane heme receptors HasR and PhuR of P. aeruginosa. She is combining biochemical, isotopic labeling and bacterial genetics to determine the contributions of the respective receptors to extracellular heme uptake and virulence. Through a combination of site-directed mutagenesis and biophysical methods she is determining the protein-protein interface and structurally characterizing the HasA-HasR complex by X-ray crystallographic methods. In addition she is collaborating with Pierre Moenne-Loccoz at Oregon Health Sciences University to determine the spectroscopic properties of key intermediates in the transfer reaction using freeze-quench stopped flow and resonance Raman methods.

Lizzie Robinson Lizzie Robinson
BS, University of Texas at Austin
2017 – Present

Lizzie is working jointly with Professor Fengtian Xue on the the developmentof novel therapeutic strategies targeting heme utilization in P. aeruginosa. In the Wilks lab she is combining biochemical and bacterial genetics to develop high-throughput screening tools for the characterization of heme sensing and utilization inhibitors. In Dr. Xue’s group she is synthesizing novel small molecule inhibitors of the P. aeruginosa heme oxygenase HemO. We have previously shown HemO is required to drive the metabolic heme flux into the cell. Furthermore, the product of heme degradation biliverdin IX beta, functions as a feedback regulator of the heme dependent extracellular cytopl
asmic function (ECF) sigma-factor system. Thus, targeting heme metabolism at the level of HemO provides a strategy to limit the essential nutrient iron as well as the cells ability to sense the presence of heme in the extracellular environment.

Garrick Centola Garrick Centola
BS, University of Rochester
2017 – Present

Garrick is working jointly with Professor Fengtian Xue on the the development of novel therapeutic strategies targeting the interaction of the P.  aeruginosa hemophore HasA with the outer membrane HasR. In the Wilks lab he is combining NMR and HDX-MS exchange to characterize the protein-protein interaction in the development of peptidomimetic strategies.  With Dr. Xue he is designing and synthesizing peptidomimetics targeting the heme-dependent ECF signaling system. We have previously shown the Has system is the most unregulated set of genes in an acute murine lung infection, and that deletion of HasR leads to a significant attenuation in virulence. We hypothesize disrupting the heme signal and the cells ability to sense the presence of heme in the extracellular environment will aid in the prevention of P. aeruginosa colonization and infection within the host.

Tyree Wilson Tyree Wilson
BS, Hood College
2017 – Present

Tyree is studying the central role of the P. aeruginosa cytoplasmic heme binding protein PhuS in heme trafficking and regulation. Tyree is combining bacterial genetics, biochemical and biophysical methods in further understanding the cellular connection between PhuS and the iron-regulated PrrF sRNAs. The central role of the sRNAs in iron-homeostasis and virulence implicates PhuS as a critical player in the integration of heme utilization and iron homeostasis.