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Dr Jay R Laver BSc, PhD

Senior Research Fellow in Molecular Microbiology

Dr Jay R Laver's photo

Dr Laver is a Senior Research Fellow in Molecular Microbiology in the Faculty of Medicine. He works in close collaboration with the NIHR Clinical Research Facility at University Hospital Southampton and the Southampton NIHR Biomedical Research Centre.

His research focuses on the use of controlled human infection to better understand the factors affecting bacterial colonization and the interaction of colonizing bacteria with the human immune system. He has pioneered the use of genetically modified commensal bacteria as a means to deliver vaccine antigens to the upper respiratory tract mucosa, and develops molecular tools to turn these ‘friendly’ organisms into useful ‘microbial factories’ for therapeutic benefit.

Dr Laver graduated in Genetics & Microbiology from the Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology at the University of Sheffield in 2003, having participated in a yearlong sandwich student placement in the Antibody Technology Group at Astrazeneca (Alderley Park).  He went on to join the Faculty of Medicine at Sheffield and completed his PhD on the impact of nitric oxide detoxification during meningococcal infection in 2008.

After pursuing projects related to his thesis and a position at Case Western Reserve University in the United States, Dr Laver joined the University of Southampton as a Research Fellow in 2012. In his attempt to create molecular tools for the study of Neisseria biofilms, he developed methods to genetically transform the human commensal bacterium Neisseria lactamica, which had hitherto proved intransigent to genetic manipulation. Building upon the established track record of Prof Robert Read’s Experimental Human Challenge Group in the field of controlled human infection, Dr Laver utilised his patented Nlac Transformation Technology (NTT) to express vaccine antigens on the surface of this bacterium and demonstrated their utility as a potential bacterial medicine.



Research interests

1. Drugs in bugs

The main focus of my research is developing applications for genetically modified Neisseria lactamica, as a means to deliver molecules of biological importance to the upper respiratory mucosa of humans. 

My work into the use of this genetically modified commensal as an antigen delivery platform has shown it generates systemic and localised humoral responses (i.e. antibodies) and immunological memory against a specific, heterologous antigen during a controlled human infection model experiment (CHIME). The technology has a broad range of potential applications in the field of vaccine development and delivery, which I am exploring through collaborations with biotech companies specialising in recombinant antigen presentation.

As part of the continued evolution of the NTT platform, I am interested in the development of new molecular tools. I utilise synthetic biology and reporter systems to generate new methods to control gene expression and create simplified and streamlined cloning systems in this commensal.

2. Bugs as drugs

An interesting observation from previous CHIMEs is that Neisseria lactamica is able to exclude a closely related bacterial species, Neisseria meningitidis, from the nose and throat of people it colonises. Neisseria meningitidis is a pathbiont, and the causative agent of meningococcal disease. Colonisation of an individual’s nose and throat with the pathobiont is prerequisite for the onset of disease, which can be rapidly lethal. First displacing and then preventing the reacquisition of the meningococcus in the nose and throat can therefore disrupt a critical stage in the pathogenesis of meningococcal infection. The displacement of Neisseria meningitidis by Neisseria lactamica is rapid and non-discriminatory, insofar as it is not limited to any particular subgroup of the pathobiont. Therefore, it is plausible that controlled infection with normal, unmodified, so-called wild type Neisseria lactamica could have a positive impact on the incidence of meningococcal disease, especially in regions of sub-saharan Africa where there are still meningococcal epidemics. 

I have developed a freeze-dried preparation of Neisseria lactamica, the efficacy of which we are currently testing at the Centre for Vaccine Development in Bamako, Mali in association with the Mucosal Pathogens Research Unit from University College London.

PhD supervision

Current PhD projects:

  • Genomics of Bordetella pertussis and Neisseria lactamica during controlled infection of humans (PhD, co-supervisor).

Dr Laver’s research is underpinned by interactions with the NIHR Clinical Research Facility at University Hospital Southampton and the Southampton NIHR Biomedical Research Centre based at University Hospital Southampton.

He has international research links with laboratories in Sweden and The Netherlands, and is actively collaborating with the Centre for Vaccine Development in Bamako, Mali to explore the potential of using Neisseria lactamica as a prophylactic against meningococcal disease.

Dr Laver is keenly interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. He is the local point of contact for the UK Global Research in Infectious Diseases (UGRID) initiative and is part of the Futureworlds entrepreneur and business accelerator network.

Dr Laver is a member of the Society for Applied Microbiology (SfAM) and a member of the Global-Network for Antibiotic Resistance and Infection Prevention (NAMRIP).

Dr Laver is on the Volunteering Working Group within the Faculty of Medicine and a member of the University’s Genetic Modification and Biological Safety Committee (GMBSC). He is a Review Editor of Frontiers of Cellular and Infection Microbiology.

Dr Laver has co-supervised a number of students working towards their PhDs and has co-supervised two to completion.

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Dr Jay R Laver
LC71a (MP814) Molecular Microbiology
South Academic Block
Southampton General Hospital
Tremona Road

Room Number : SGH/LC71a/MP814

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