Cathryn R. Nagler

  • Bunning Family Professor in the Department of Pathology, Pritzker School of Molecular Engineering and the College
  • Research and Scholarly Interests: Microbiome, Food Allergy, Oral Tolerance, Epithelial Barrier, Microbiome Modulation, Microbiome Therapeutics
  • Websites: Nagler Lab
  • Contact: cnagler1@uchicago.edu
  • Office Location:
    Jules F. Knapp Medical Research Building, 924 East 57th Street R410, Chicago IL, 60637

Cathryn Nagler graduated with honors from Barnard College, Columbia University. She obtained her PhD from the Sackler Institute of Biomedical Science at NYU School of Medicine and did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was associate professor of pediatrics (immunology) at Harvard Medical School prior to joining the University of Chicago in 2009.

Prof. Nagler has participated in numerous review panels for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, Food Allergy Research and Education, NIDDK and NIAID, including the Food Allergy Expert Panel. She has served the American Association of Immunologists (AAI) as section editor for the Journal of Immunology, instructor for the Introduction to Immunology and Advanced Immunology courses and as member of the Program, Clinical Immunology, Publications and Awards Committees. She was an inaugural senior editor for the AAI’s new journal ImmunoHorizons.

Nagler is currently deputy editor for the Journal of Immunology. She has also served as an elected councilor of the Society for Mucosal Immunology and is an associate editor of the journal Mucosal Immunology. She is the current co-chair of the education committee for the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies (FOCIS) and teaches in the FOCIS Advanced Course in Basic and Clinical Immunology.

Nagler received the Distinguished Faculty Award for Leader in Program Innovation from the University of Chicago in 2017 and was listed among Crain’s Tech Top 50 Women in 2018 for her work with ClostraBio. Recent academic honors include the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) Foundation and Louis M. Mendelson Award Lectureship, and the Siegel Lectureship at University of California, Los Angeles.

Nagler Lab studies the mechanisms governing tolerance to dietary antigens. They were one of the first to identify a link between resident intestinal bacteria and the regulation of mucosal immunity. During the last fifteen years, their work has focused on examining how commensal bacteria regulate susceptibility to allergic responses to food. They have proposed that the striking generational increase in food allergies can be explained, in part, by alterations in the composition and function of the commensal microbiome.

In support of this hypothesis, Nagler Lab described a role for a particular population of mucosa-associated commensal bacteria in protection from allergic sensitization in mice. Initial translational studies showed that the composition of the fecal microbiota is altered in infants with cow’s milk allergy. To understand how the microbiota regulates allergic disease in humans they have colonized germ free mice with human bacteria from the feces of healthy or cow’s milk allergic (CMA) infants.

The group discovered that mice colonized with CMA infants’ microbiota exhibited an anaphylactic response to the cow’s milk allergen b-lactoglobulin, while mice colonized with healthy infants’ microbiota were protected against an allergic response. They defined a microbiota signature that distinguishes the CMA and healthy populations in both the human donors and the colonized mice. Analysis of gene expression in ileal intestinal epithelial cells of colonized mice identified a significant correlation between the genes associated with allergy protection and taxa from the Lachnospiraceae family, supporting a causal role for specific bacterial species in protection against food allergy. 

These robust, pre-clinical, gnotobiotic models are an ideal system to identify key host-microbial interactions that contribute to allergic sensitization to food. With support from the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Nagler Lab has created a start-up company, ClostraBio, to develop novel microbiome-modulating therapeutics to prevent or treat food allergy.