School of Medicine

Wayne State University School of Medicine

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Elizabeth Berger
Assistant Professor

The studies carried out by our laboratory predominately focus on disease pathogenesis and the interplay between the immune and neuroendocrine systems. We mechanistically and therapeutically investigate the events of inflammation and innate immunity using a model of ocular infectious disease.

This includes analyses of: host inflammatory cells (macrophages, neutrophils, T cells - both in vivo and in vitro), extracellular matrix and adhesion molecules, cytokines/chemokines, Toll-like receptors and other related molecules using a number of molecular, cellular and immunohistochemical techniques. Ongoing NIH-funded studies examine how the neuropeptide, vasoactive intestinal peptide (VIP), influences T cells and the production of IL-17, nerve regeneration, and the production of endogenous lipid mediator circuits. In addition, my laboratory is defining the clinical applicability of VIP as a treatment modality in the eye. Additionally, other projects include: 1) a collaborative project with Dr. Jena Steinle looking at the role of inflammation in diabetic retinopathy, and 2) how neutrophil transdifferentiation contributes to disease pathogenesis.

I participate in the Year I Curriculum for medical students by teaching Gross Anatomy. I also contribute individual lectures to the Biology of the Eye course (ANA 6050, 7055, PYC 7050, and BIO 6055, 7055).

If you have interest in joining our lab, please contact me by email. The lab is particularly interested in undergraduate students who are able to commit 1+ years of research. We also provide opportunities for medical students interested in research through the summer internship program offered by the Department of Ophthalmology.


Faculty Appointments

Assistant Professor (2013 - present)
Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology and Department of Ophthalmology
Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI

Adjunct Faculty (2012 - present)
Department of Biomedical & Diagnostic Sciences
University of Detroit Mercy School of Dentistry, Detroit, MI

Research Assistant Professor (2010 - 2013)
Department of Anatomy & Cell Biology
Wayne State University School of Medicine, Detroit, MI

Research Support

NIH grant R01-EY023226, Research to Prevent Blindness and Midwest Eye Bank Grants

Research Educator, Full time, PhD, Gross Anatomy


Awards & Honors
  • 2013 - 28th Biennial Corneal Conference Travel Award
    Midwest Eye Bank Research Grant Award
    C. Stephen and Frances B. Foster Foundation Travel Grant
  • 2011 - XXth International Neurotrauma Symposium Travel Award
  • 2010 - Midwest Eye Bank Research Grant Award
  • 2009 - Midwest Eye Bank Research Grant Award
    Post-Doctoral Research Day, awardee
  • 2008 - Inaugural Post-Doctoral Research Day, awardee
  • 2007 - ARVO Travel Grant
  • 2005 - TFOS Travel Award
  • 2004 - Graduate Student Professional Travel Award
  • 2003 - Graduate Student Research Day, 2nd place
    CIBA-Vision Travel Award

1. Carion TW, McWhirter CR, Grewal DK, Berger EA. Efficacy of VIP as treatment for bacteria-induced keratitis against multiple Pseudomonas aeruginosa strains. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Oct 56(11):6932-6940. PMID: 26513498

2. Berger EA, McClellan SA, Vistisen KS, Hazlett LD. HIF-1 is essential for effective PMN bacterial killing, antimicrobial peptide production and apoptosis in Pseudomonas aeruginosa keratitis. PLoS Pathogen. 9(7):e1003457, Epub Jul 18, 2013.

3. Foldenauer MEB, McClellan SA, Berger EA, Hazlett LD. mTOR regulates IL-10 and resistance to Pseudomonas aeruginosa corneal infection. J Immunol. Jun 190(11):5649-5658, 2013.

4. Berger, EA, Vistisen K, Barrett, RP, Hazlett, LD. Effects of VIP on corneal reconstitution and homeostasis following Pseudomonas aeruginosa induced keratitis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Nov 53(12):7432-7439, 2012.

5. Jiang, X., McClellan, S., Barrett, R.P., Berger, E.A., Zhang, Y., Hazlett, L.D. VIP regulates growth factors to promote healing in the infected cornea. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 52(9):6154-6161, 2011.

6. Berger, E.A., McClellan, S., Barrett, R.P., Hazlett, L.D. Testican-1 promotes resistance against P. aeruginosa induced keratitis via modulation of MMP-2 driven wound healing and ECM restoration. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 52(8):5339-5346, 2011.

7. Berger, E.A., McClellan, S., Barrett, R.P., Hazlett, L.D. VIP promotes resistance in the Pseudomonas aeruginosa infected cornea by modulating adhesion molecule expression. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 51(11):577605782, 2010.

8. Hazlett, L.D., McClellan, S.A., Barrett, R.P., Huang, X., Zhang, Y., Wu, M., van Rooijen, N., Szliter-Berger, E.A. IL-33 shifts macrophage polarization, promoting resistance against Pseudomonas aeruginosa keratitis. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Mar, 51(3):1524-1532, 2010.

9. Szliter-Berger, E.A. and Hazlett L.D. Corneal Epithelium: Response to Infection. In: Darlene A Dartt, editor. Encyclopedia of the Eye, Vol 1. Oxford: Academic Press; 2010. pp 442 - 448.

10. Zhou, Z., Barrett, R., McClellan, S., Zhang, Y., Szliter, E., Huang, X., Hazlett, L.D. Substance P delays apoptosis in P. aeruginosa infected cornea and exacerbates disease. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. Oct; 49(10): 4458-4467, 2008.

11. Szliter, E.A., Lighvani, S., Barrett, R.P., Hazlett, L.D. VIP balances pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines in the P. aeruginosa infected cornea and protects against corneal perforation. J Immunol. Jan; 178(2): 1105-1114, 2007.

12. Szliter, E.A., Barrett, R.P., Gabriel, M.M., Zhang, Y., Hazlett, L.D. Pseudomonas aeruginosa-induced inflammation in the rat extended-wear contact lens model. Eye Contact Lens. Jan; 32(1): 12-18, 2006.

13. Szliter, E.A., Morris, C.A., Carney, F., Gabriel, M.M., Hazlett, L.D. Development of an Extended Wear Contact Lens Model In the Rat. CLAO J. Jul; 28(3): 119-123, 2002.

14. Sosne, G., Szliter, E.A., Barrett R., Kernacki K.A., Kleinman H.D., Hazlett, L.D. Thymosin beta 4 Promotes Corneal Wound Healing and Decreases Inflammation In Vivo Following Alkali Injury. Exp Eye Res. Feb; 74(2): 293-299, 2002.

15. Sosne, G., Chan, C.C., Thai, K., Kennedy, M., Szliter, E.A., Hazlett, L.D., Kleinman, H.K. Thymosin beta 4 Promotes Corneal Wound Healing and Modulates Inflammatory Mediators In Vivo. Exp Eye Res. May; 72(5): 605-608, 2001.