Core Faculty
Environmental Challenges

Marsha Wills-Karp

Core Faculty

Dr. Wills-Karp is a leading immunologist whose research into the role of the cytokine, interleukin- 13, opened a new paradigm in asthma studies that has become one of the central tenets of asthma research. Additionally, her research focuses on the environmental and genetic determinants of allergic airway diseases and the immune mechanisms involved in asthma. Her work on how allergens and airborne pollutants activate immune pathways has made significant contributions to the understanding of how altered immune recognition of environmental factors can lead to the development of allergic disease. She has identified several genetic patterns that may increase susceptibility to asthma. Her expertise in the field of asthma has led her to advise pharmaceutical companies in their efforts to create drugs that block interleukin-13 and other asthma-related proteins. 

Dr Wills-Karp’s current research projects include the prevention and treatment of food allergies, and how environmental exposures of pregnant women affect the health of their offspring. More specifically, she studies how pregnant mothers’ exposure to ambient air pollution induces intrauterine inflammation and links to childhood obesity. In 2018, she discovered that a receptor, dectin-1, which appears on epithelial cells lining the lungs and gut, protects against allergic reactions instead of causing them, as was previously believed. This insight has opened up new opportunities for potential treatment. 
Dr. Wills-Karp received a Master of Science degree from Southwest Texas State University, earned her doctorate from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and completed postdoctoral training at Yale University. 

As the Anna M. Baetjer Professor and chair of the Department of Environmental Health and Environmental Engineering, Dr. Wills-Karp encourages cross-divisional and cross-disciplinary inquiry, bringing together financial and intellectual resources to support collaborative research between the engineering and public health sectors.

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