Sunil Thomas, PhD

Headshot of Sunil Thomas, PhD

Research Faculty

Research Professor

Meet Sunil Thomas, PhD, a professor specializing in translational research.

About

  • 2022–Present: Research Professor, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR)
  • 2021: Research Associate Professor, LIMR
  • 2012–2021: Research Assistant Professor, LIMR
  • 2015–Present: Editor, Vaccine Design: Methods and Protocols (Springer-Nature)
  • 2017: Visiting Professor, Temple University

Research Descriptions

Background

Translational science is a discipline within biomedical and public health research that aims to improve the health of individuals and communities by translating findings from basic research studies into diagnostic tools, medicine, procedures and education.

Dr. Sunil Thomas specializes in translational science. With a strong and varied background in microbiology, immunology, molecular biology and cell biology, he has developed diagnostic tools and vaccines for disorders that afflict millions of people every year.

Gastrointestinal disorders

Dr. Thomas is investigating whether Bin1antibody could provide protection against colitis. It has been demonstrated that Bin1 is a genetic modifier of experimental colitis that controls the paracellular pathway of transcellular ion transport regulated by cellular tight junctions. Dr. Thomas has discovered that Bin1 antibody can exert drug-like properties in an animal model. He is part of a team that is in a Phase 1 clinical trial for a medication to treat colitis using an innovative immunotherapy technique.

Alzheimer’s disease

Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive, neurodegenerative disease that afflicts primarily the elderly. Characterized by a progressive loss of memory and intellectual ability, AD affects more than 44 million people worldwide and is projected to increase to 135 million people by 2050. Unfortunately, there are no medications to prevent onset or to cure those living with the disease.

In recent years, the human gene Bin1 has emerged as one of the most important genes in affecting the incidence of sporadic AD. Dr. Thomas is part of a team that is exploring whether anti- Bin1antibody could act as a drug to treat AD.

Vaccines

Antibiotics and vaccines are the therapeutic strategies employed in the control and prevention of bacterial diseases. Abuse/misuse of antibiotics has resulted in the generation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Hence, there is a need to develop new therapeutic strategies in the control of bacterial infectious diseases.

Dr. Thomas modeled the membrane protein of SARS-CoV-2 and showed that it functions as a sugar transporter. He also mapped the non-structural proteins and accessory proteins of SARS-CoV-2. He created a groundbreaking resource for scientists seeking to develop new and better outcomes in the fight against COVID-19 called the COVID-19 Genetic Resource Guide—the world’s first compendium of the genetic code and protein structure of SARS-CoV-2.

Dr. Thomas has developed several subunit vaccines for the infectious disease ehrlichiosis, which is transmitted by ticks. He pioneered the concept of structure-based vaccines for the disease, and he holds four patents for the development of diagnostic approaches and vaccines for the illness. He has also developed the concept of using sonicated vaccines to protect against Ehrlichia infection.

Diagnostic tools

Dr. Thomas also has developed several diagnostic techniques. He was responsible for the development of molecular and immunological kits for the detection of sandal spike phytoplasma. He was the first to develop an ELISA kit to quantify lipid rafts in T cells, a technique is widely used today in immunology laboratories.

Dr. Thomas also pioneered the development of the Eastern Blotting technique to detect post-translational protein modifications. The technique paved the way for developing diagnostic probes for the detection of Ehrlichia, an intracellular bacterial pathogen in humans and animals. The probes developed were also used to elucidate the exit mechanism of Ehrlichia.

Additionally, he was part of a team that discovered the monoclonal antibody IDO (clone 4B7), which is currently being marketed as a diagnostic probe for immunohistology in basic cancer research.

Future directions

Looking ahead, Dr. Thomas is interested in developing immunotherapies for ulcerative colitis and Alzheimer’s disease, and he will be involved in development of vaccines for infectious diseases.

About his lab

Dr. Thomas’ lab focuses on the translational studies to develop immunotherapies for various diseases. Current interests include the development of Bin mAb for the protection of ulcerative colitis and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr. Thomas also is interested in studying the uptake mechanism of antibodies into cells. Animal models will be used to study molecular and immunological underpinnings during immunotherapy.

Patents

  • Sunil Thomas, James Mullin, George C. Prendergast (2015). Methods and compositions for the treatment of diseases and disorders (US62/105,358).
  • Sunil Thomas and David H. Walker (2015). Methods for detecting Ehrlichia infection (US 9,151,755 B2).
  • Sunil Thomas (2014). In vitro biosimulator to induce pattern formation in non-adherent cells (US62/072,313).
  • Sunil Thomas and David H. Walker (2014). Vaccine to protect against Ehrlichia infection (US62/066,461).
  • Sunil Thomas and David H. Walker (2014).Compositions of and method of using heat shock protein peptides (US 8,685,406 B2).
  • Sunil Thomas and David H. Walker (2013). Diagnosis and treatment of ehrlichiosis (US 8,492,103 B2).

Products commercialized

IDO1 Monoclonal Antibody

Publications

Books

  • Rickettsiales. Thomas, S, ed. Springer; 2016.
  • Vaccine Design - Methods and Protocols: Volume 1: Vaccines for Human Diseases. Thomas, S, ed. Springer; 2016.
  • Vaccine Design - Methods and Protocols: Volume 2: Vaccines for Veterinary Diseases. Thomas, S, ed. Springer; 2016.
  • Vaccine Design - Methods and Protocols, 2nd Ed.: Volume 1: Vaccines for Human Diseases. Thomas, S, ed. Springer; 2022.
  • Vaccine Design - Methods and Protocols, 2nd Ed.: Volume 2: Vaccines for Veterinary Diseases. Thomas, S, ed. Springer; 2022.
  • Vaccine Design - Methods and Protocols, 2nd Ed.: Volume 3: Resources for Vaccine Development. Thomas, S, ed. Springer; 2022.

Journal articles

  • Diet effects on colonic health influence the efficacy of Bin1 mAb immunotherapy for ulcerative colitis. Thomas S, Dilbarov N, Kelly J, Mercogliano G, Prendergast GC. Sci Rep. 2023 Jul 21;13(1):11802. doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-38830-2.
  • Gut-brain connections in neurodegenerative disease: immunotherapeutic targeting of Bin1 in inflammatory bowel disease and Alzheimer’s disease. Thomas S, Prendergast GC. Front. Pharmacol. 2023 July;14. https://doi.org/10.3389/fphar.2023.1183932
  • A Brief Overview of Cancer Vaccines. Muller AJ, Thomas S, Prendergast GC. Cancer J. 2023 Jan-Feb 01;29(1):34-37.
  • Bin1 targeted immunotherapy alters the status of the enteric neurons and the microbiome during ulcerative colitis treatment. Thomas S, Mercogliano G, Prendergast GC. PLoS One. 2022 Nov 2;17(11):e0276910. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0276910
  • In Silico Identification of the B-Cell and T-Cell Epitopes of the Antigenic Proteins of Staphylococcus aureus for Potential Vaccines. Thomas S, Doytchinova I. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2412:439-447. doi: 10.1007/978-1-0716-1892-9_23.
  • Development of a SONIX Vaccine to Protect Against Ehrlichiosis. Thomas S. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:423-429.
  • Structure-Based Design of Diagnostics and Vaccines for Lyme Disease. Thomas S. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:411-422.
  • Towards Determining the Epitopes of the Structural Proteins of SARS-CoV-2. Thomas S. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:265-272.
  • Artificial Intelligence in Vaccine and Drug Design. Thomas S, Abraham A, et al. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:131-146.
  • mRNA Vaccines to Protect Against Diseases. Thomas S, Abraham A. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:111-129.
  • Status of COVID-19 Pandemic Before the Administration of Vaccine. Thomas S. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:93-108.
  • Challenges for Vaccinologists in the First Half of the Twenty-First Century. Thomas S, Abraham A, Callaghan PJ, Rappuoli R. Methods Mol Biol. 2022;2410:3-25.
  • Mapping the Nonstructural Transmembrane Proteins of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2. Thomas S. J Comput Biol. 2021 Sep;28(9):909-921.
  • IDO1 Signaling Through GCN2 in a Subpopulation of Gr-1+ Cells Shifts the IFNγ/IL6 Balance to Promote Neovascularization. Dey S, Mondal A, DuHadaway JB, Sutanto-Ward E, Laury-Kleintop LD, Thomas S, Prendergast GC, Mandik-Nayak L, Muller AJ. Cancer Immunol Res. 2021 May;9(5):514-528.
  • Retinoic acid improves baseline barrier function and attenuates TNF-α-induced barrier leak in human bronchial epithelial cell culture model, 16HBE 14o. Callaghan PJ, Rybakovsky E, Ferrick B, Thomas S, Mullin JM. PLoS One. 2020 Dec 10;15(12):e0242536.
  • The Structure of the Membrane Protein of SARS-CoV-2 Resembles the Sugar Transporter SemiSWEET. Thomas S. Pathogens and Immunity. 2020; Oct. DOI: 10.20411/pai.v5i1.377.
  • Epithelial barrier function properties of the 16HBE14o- human bronchial epithelial cell culture model. Callaghan PJ, Ferrick B, Rybakovsky E, Thomas S, Mullin JM. Biosci Rep. 2020 Oct 30;40(10):BSR20201532.
  • An engraved surface induces weak adherence and high proliferation of nonadherent cells and microorganisms during culture. Thomas S. Biotechniques. 2020 Jun 12. doi: 10.2144/btn-2020-0022.
  • Reliable detection of indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase-1 in murine cells and tissues. Thomas S, Laury-Kleintop L, Prendergast GC. Methods Enzymol. 2019;629:219-33.
  • Bin1 antibody lowers the expression of phosphorylated Tau in Alzheimer's disease. Thomas S, Hoxha K, Tran A, Prendergast GC. J Cell Biochem 2019 Jun 18.
  • Spontaneous and cytokine-induced hole formation in epithelial cell layers: Implications for barrier function studies with the gingival cell culture, Gie-3B11, and other epithelial models. Rybakovsky E, Buleza NB, Hoxha K, DiGuilio KM, McCluskey ES, Friday CL, Callaghan PJ, Moskalenko DV, Zuo B, Thomas S, Mullin JM. Trends in Cell & Molecular Biology. 2018. 13:99-114.
  • Intestinal barrier tightening by a cell-penetrating antibody to Bin1, a candidate target for immunotherapy of ulcerative colitis. Thomas S, Hoxha K, Alexander W, Gilligan J, Dilbarova R, Whittaker K, Kossenkov A, Prendergast GC, Mullin JM. J Cell Biochem. 2018 Sep 30. doi: 10.1002/jcb.27716.
  • Indoximod: An Immunometabolic Adjuvant That Empowers T Cell Activity in Cancer. Fox E, Oliver T, Rowe M, Thomas S, Zakharia Y, Gilman PB, Muller AJ, Prendergast GC. Front Oncol. 2018 Sep 11;8:370.
  • The Host Microbiome Regulates and Maintains Human Health: A Primer and Perspective for Non-Microbiologists. Thomas S, Izard J, Walsh E, Batich K, Chongsathidkiet P, Clarke G, Sela DA, Muller AJ, Mullin JM, Albert K, Gilligan JP, DiGuilio K, Dilbarova R, Alexander W, Prendergast GC. Cancer Res. 2017 Mar 14.
  • Improvement of human-oral-epithelial-barrier function and of tight junctions by micronutrients. Rybakovsky E., Valenzano M.C., Deis R., DiGuilio K.M., Thomas S. and Mullin JM. 2017. J Agric Food Chem. 65:10950-10958.
  • Potassium sulfate forms a spiral structure when dissolved in solution. Thomas S. 2017. Russian Journal of Physical Chemistry B 11(1): 195-198.
  • Zinc reduces epithelial barrier compromise induced by human seminal plasma. Mullin J.M., DiGuilio K., Valenzan, M.C., Deis R., Thomas S., Zurbach E.P., Abdulhaqq S. and Montaner L.J. 2017. PLoS One 12(3):e0170306.
  • Cancer Vaccines: A Brief Overview. Thomas S, Prendergast GC. Methods Mol Biol. 2016.1403:755-61.
  • Development of Structure-Based Vaccines for Ehrlichiosis. Thomas S. Methods Mol Biol. 2016.1403:519-34.
  • Future Challenges for Vaccinologists. Thomas S, Dilbarova R, Rappuoli R. Methods Mol Biol. 2016.1403:41-55.
  • Novel colitis immunotherapy targets Bin1 and improves colon cell barrier function. Thomas S., Mercado J.M., DuHadaway J., DiGuilio K., Mullin J.M. and Prendergast G.C. 2015. Digestive Diseases and Sciences (in press).
  • Specific In situ detection of murine Indoleamine 2, 3-dioxygenase. Thoma, S., DuHadaway J., Prendergast G.C. and Laury-Kleintop L. 2014. Journal of Cellular Biochemistry 115, 391-396.
  • Vaccines based on structure-based design provide protection against infectious diseases. Thomas S. and Luxon B.A. 2013. Expert Review Vaccines 12, 1301-1311.
  • Immunization with recombinant Ehrlichia outer membrane protein P28 confers protection in a mouse model of ehrlichiosis. Crocquet-Valdes P.A., Thirumalapura N., Ismail N., Yu X., Stevenson H.L., Keng C., Thomas S. and Walker D.H. 2011.
  • Clinical Vaccine Immunology 18, 2018-2025. Structure-based vaccines provide protection in a mouse model of ehrlichiosis. Thomas S., Thirumalapura N., Crocquet-Valdes P.A. and Walker D.H. 2011. PLoS One 6(11), e27981.

Books

Vaccine Design: Methods and Protocols. Volume 1. Vaccines for Human Diseases. (Editor: Sunil Thomas), (Series: Methods in Molecular Biology, Vol. 1403, Springer, New York), 1302 pp.

Vaccine Design: Methods and Protocols. Volume 2. Vaccines for Veterinary Diseases. (Editor: Sunil Thomas), (Series: Methods in Molecular Biology Series, Vol. 1404, Springer, New York), 1226 pp.

Rickettsiales: Biology, Epidemiology, Molecular Biology and Vaccine Development (Editor: Sunil Thomas). Springer, New York, pp. 529. (ISBN: 978-3-319-46857-0) (2017).

Education and Training

Education

  • BSc, Botany
    Kerala University
  • MSc, Biotechnology
    Cochin University of Science and Technology
  • PhD, Environmental Biotechnology
    Cochin University of Science and Technology
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship
    Mount Sinai School of Medicine

Academic Titles

  • 2022–Present: Research Professor, Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR)
  • 2021: Research Associate Professor, LIMR
  • 2012–2021: Research Assistant Professor, LIMR
  • 2015–Present: Editor, Vaccine Design: Methods and Protocols (Springer-Nature)
  • 2017: Visiting Professor, Temple University