Welcome Dr. Jim Sun to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology
Sun Lab
Jan 8, 2024

Dr. Jim Sun has officially joined the UBC Department of Microbiology and Immunology as an Assistant Professor. With a research focus on tuberculosis pathogenesis, he will also be part of the new PrePARE (Prepare for Pandemics through Advanced Research in Evolution) research cluster directed by Drs. Kayla King and Selena Sagan. 


We are excited to welcome Dr. Sun to our department and look forward to sharing his research with you. 


Q: What is your lab’s main research focus? 


Jim Sun (JS): My first exposure to research was in the field of tuberculosis (TB) pathogenesis and have since developed a passion to study this deadly disease that many in the privileged world think has been eradicated. This cannot be further from the truth as TB remains the leading cause of infectious-disease related deaths globally, and high rates persist among the Indigenous population in Canada. The bacteria that cause TB has evolved in humans for millennia and provides a unique opportunity to study the tug of war between the pathogen and the host immune response. My lab’s research is focused on understanding how the TB bacteria disables and reprograms the human immune system for its intracellular survival. Along the way, we are also interested in the fundamental understanding of innate immune responses to bacterial pathogens, with the long-term goal of developing translational approaches and drugs to combat infectious diseases.


Q: What do you hope to achieve with current/future research? 


JS: Our research program begins by understanding the basic biology of how bacteria survive within host immune cells. For example, we address questions such as: What host cell signaling pathways are exploited or reprogrammed by the bacteria? How are these processes regulated at the molecular level? What host or bacterial factors are involved? How can we harness this knowledge to develop new therapeutic strategies?


We employ a multidisciplinary approach integrating multi-omics, high content imaging, advanced immunological assays, and drug screening to identify, characterize and optimize targets both in the bacteria and in the host, the latter of which is a form of immunotherapy. Host-directed therapy for TB is a new therapeutic approach with the potential to overcome drug resistance. Our research in this area may also be translatable to other infectious diseases as the underlying fundamental knowledge and drugs developed can be applied to other bacterial or viral pathogens. At the same time, our lab is also developing new surveillance strategies for TB in vulnerable communities, with the goal of achieving a real-time TB monitoring system to prevent disease transmission in Indigenous populations. Ultimately, we hope to develop novel tools and therapeutic strategies that will contribute to reducing the global burden of TB. 


Q: Tell us about some accomplishments from your career that you are proud of?


Jim Sun: The success of trainees from the Sun Lab is the number one priority and accomplishment that I’m proud of. I’ve been lucky to work with so many fantastic and talented postdocs and students, and their success in obtaining scholarships, awards, graduating on time, and moving on to successful positions in biotech, grad school, med school, is the most rewarding part of my job. It goes without saying that all of our research accomplishments are a direct result of their effort, productivity, and creativity. In particular, I’m extremely proud of the way we handled adversity in the face of restrictions imposed by the pandemic as we continued to be productive during this time and maintained lab morale.


In terms of our research, it was very rewarding to have one of our papers selected as the journal cover and accompanying previews and commentary written by peers, which shows that we are making an impact on the field. It was also rewarding to receive validation from peers in the form of early career researcher awards. As our research program evolves, I’m also proud and excited of some new initiatives and projects that focus on the addressing TB in Indigenous populations in Canada. More to come on these projects in the near future!


Q: What are some of the things you are most looking forward to as an Assistant Professor at UBC in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology?


JS: I’m thrilled to begin the next chapter of the Sun Lab in MBIM at UBC. While there will undoubtedly be growing pains and a transition period as I relocate my lab from uOttawa, I already know that there is an exceptional support system in place from fantastic colleagues, support staff, and admin personnel to ensure a smooth transition. Having spent 12 years of my life at UBC, I have personally benefited tremendously from the exceptional level of education, research, resources, and infrastructure that UBC has to offer. My team and I really look forward to integrating into a vibrant and dynamic research community in MBIM and UBC at large, particularly in the vast opportunities available to conduct interdisciplinary research within the various hubs, centers, and clusters. I also can’t wait to get started on many potential collaborations within MBIM, and to use the world-class resources and infrastructure at the LSI, including core facilities such as FINDER for our biosafety level 3 research!