December 15, 2008- Researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine have been awarded a $10.3 million grant—the largest basic immunology grant ever received by Hopkins—from the National Institutes of Health to dissect the human immune system.
Specifically, they aim to learn more about what happens when the immune system goes wrong, and how to suppress undesired immune responses in the cases of rejected tissue or organ transplants or in autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis or lupus.
“The current approach to immune responses gone awry is to hit the TV set with a hammer and use drugs that globally suppress all immune activity,” says project leader Jonathan Schneck, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of pathology at Hopkins. “We know these approaches are limited in their effectiveness; it would be great to develop targeted therapies and in order to do that, we need to know more about how the immune system works.”
The comprehensive research brings together experts from across Johns Hopkins to “build a better overview” of the immune response. The team will take on five different projects, led by five researchers in addition to Schneck: Stephen Desiderio, M.D., Ph.D., director of Hopkins’ Institute of Basic Biomedical Sciences, head of the ImmunoICE program within the Institute of Cell Engineering and professor of molecular biology and genetics; Michael Edidin, Ph.D., professor of biology at Hopkins’ Homewood campus; Abraham Kupfer, Ph.D., professor of cell biology; Joel Pomerantz, Ph.D., assistant professor of biological chemistry; and Jonathan Powell, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of oncology. Together the team will study how protein receptors on the surface of immune cells are organized to understand how they respond to foreign cells and particles in the body, as well as how they recognize the body’s own cells. The researchers also will study how to use the immune system to fight cancer, and how immune cells communicate with themselves and with other cells.
“We’re really excited about this opportunity because it breaks down traditional boundaries found at many research institutions and allows us to cross-fertilize ideas and projects across many disciplines,” says Stephen Desiderio. “It’s a huge investment to basic immunology research and we are eager to get started on the work.”
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