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Department of Anesthesiology/Critical Care Medicine
The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
720 Rutland Avenue, Ross 367
Baltimore, MD 21205
Phone: (410) 955-1743
Fax: (410) 614-0083
The focus of Dr. Heller's laboratory is the role of IL-4/IL-13 signaling in asthma and allergic disease. She is interested in the basic mechanisms of signaling: from the biology, signal transduction, and regulation of the IL-4/IL-13 receptor to the role of alternatively activated macrophages in the pathogenesis of allergic inflammation. Alternatively activated macrophages, or AAM, differentiate from resting macrophages in the presence of IL-4 or IL-13 and are involved in mediating Th2-type inflammation, such as immune responses to helminth worms and allergens. Their phenotype contrasts with “classically activated” or “inflammatory” macrophages. AAM are considered “anti-inflammatory” in that they are thought to suppress inflammatory reactions to control worm infection or inflammatory responses to allergens. AAM contain inflammation by promoting fibrosis through release of chitinase-like molecules, inducing regulatory T-cells (Tregs), dampening T-cell responses, and producing anti-inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-10. However, when these AAM responses become chronic or are dysregulated, they can result in pathogenesis as seen in lung fibrosis and asthma.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the balance between alternatively activated and classically activated macrophages centrally regulates the pathology of many diseases with an inflammatory basis, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Although alternatively activated and classically activated macrophage phenotypes can be useful designations, it is apparent that macrophages exist along a phenotypic spectrum and may have the capacity to convert their phenotypes. Dr. Heller's group is actively engaged in this exciting new area of macrophage immunobiology. New projects include elucidating the links between asthma and obesity and determining how gender and race affect asthma and obesity in humans. They utilize a variety of techniques, including molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry, mouse models, cultured cell lines, and human patient samples to uncover cellular and molecular pathways that will be relevant targets for human clinical benefit. Dr. Heller maintains active collaborations with faculty members of the Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Asthma and Allergy Center on the Bayview Campus.
Dr. Heller has mentored trainees from high school students to MD/PhDs during her academic career, and she welcomes motivated and interested students. Many potential projects in the lab can be tailored to fit the interests of students and fellows with a short-term or longer-term time frame. Students and fellows will gain hands-on experience in a variety of cutting-edge techniques by working on their own project and will be able to observe and/or participate in other ongoing research projects in the lab. Students and fellows will have the opportunity to interact with Dr. Heller on a daily basis, often at the bench.
Jessie X. Fang, MS
Nagaraj Gowda, PhD