Ed Maio headshot

Ed Miao

Dr. Ed Miao’s corner of immunology research involves the rather dramatic plot twist that occurs when a cell confronted by an enemy pathogen basically blows itself up to stop the invader from causing more damage to the body.

It’s called ‘pyroptosis,’ one weapon our immune systems employ in their continual battle against illness. On other occasions, a cell will kill itself via a different process called ‘apoptosis.’ Scientists refer to both of these as ‘regulated cell death.’

Miao, an MD/PhD immunologist in Duke’s School of Medicine, is on the forefront of research in this area, seeking more information on precisely how the immune system chooses the path it does in each circumstance. His work, he says, is foundational – an early step in a long string of discoveries.

“When an infectious microbe has commandeered one of our cells, sometimes the best thing that cell can do is to kill itself. If we can understand when that decision is made correctly to fight infection, then we can learn how to intervene when inappropriate pyroptosis contributes to defective immune responses and sepsis,” he said.

In 2022, Miao’s team of researchers moved the ball forward, publishing a study that discovered the precise role of a long mysterious cell death enzyme called “caspase-7,” that buys a cell time to put its affairs in order before it dies. More recently, Miao’s lab has discovered that pyroptosis is a critical defense needed to ensure that immune cells can organize themselves into elaborate structures called granulomas.

Miao is a Chancellor’s Distinguished Professor of Immunology at Duke, which he joined in 2020 following about a decade of work at UNC’s School of Medicine. He did his graduate training at the University of Washington, where he earned his MD and PhD in 2004.