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Deb Fowell Authors Study on Immune Cell Navigation Systems

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

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When immune cells get recruited to infections, tumors, or other sites of inflammation they exit the blood stream and begin searching for the damage. But how they effectively traverse the body’s tissue and home in on their targets is unclear. A new study led by Deborah Fowell, Ph.D. suggests that T cells have distinct navigation systems that help them pinpoint their targets.

Fowell’s research team, based in the David H. Smith Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology made the discovery by visualizing the immune system in real time using intravital multiphoton microscopy. The technology allows you to look directly into the skin and observe the dynamic behavior of immune cells ‘live.’ Their findings were published earlier this month in the journal Immunity.

“We thought that locating the infection foci was a passive event for immune cells; that they used the tissue as a scaffold to weave their way through this complex matrix to get to their target,” said Fowell, Dean’s professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology. “We discovered that they are pre-programmed to respond to certain cues within the tissue microenvironment that help them find their targets more efficiently.”

The team hopes that discovering these specialized programs for migration in tissues will provide new therapeutic targets that enable manipulation of the immune response in a disease-specific or tissue-specific fashion, rather than globally suppressing the immune system. Possibilities include boosting protective immunity in diseases where the immune system is inefficient, such as chronic infections and tumors, and limiting immunity in diseases that are exacerbated by the immune system, like autoimmunity and heart disease.

Hen Prizant, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in Fowell’s lab and Alison Gaylo-Moynihan, M.D., Ph.D., a former student in the lab are co-first authors. Graduate students Ninoshka R.J. Fernandes, Hannah Bell, Dillon C. Schrock, Tara Capece, Brandon Walling, and Christopher Anderson contributed to the study. Faculty members David Topham, Minsoo Kim, Alan Smrcka and James Miller are also authors.

Fowell credits the new finding to the power of NIH Program Project Grants (P01), which allow faculty, trainees and students to explore uncharted scientific territory and branch out among different disciplines. For example, the team reached across Elmwood Avenue to have conversations with astrophysicists and engineers on River Campus about how objects move through and are found in space. The P01 that funded the research was awarded to Fowell (PI) and Kim, Topham and Miller in 2014. 

Department of Microbiology Retreat Coming Up!

Monday, July 22, 2019

After an extended hiatus, the Microbiology & Immunology department retreat will return on Monday, August 26, 2019 at the Memorial Art Gallery, located at 500 University Avenue.

Some agenda highlights include:

  • We are hosting three “gurus”, one for each branch of the department. They will be giving individual seminars, as well as participate together in an audience guided panel discussion.
    • Dr. John Harty, University of Iowa (Immunology)
    • Dr. Jacques Ravel, University of Maryland School of Medicine (Microbiology)
    • Dr. Luis Schang, Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine (Virology)
  • Lunch will include trivia hosted by Geeks Who Drink! One round will be questions pulled from poster abstracts – hope you paid attention!
  • The day will conclude with a happy hour to celebrate the achievements of the past year in the department.

If you have any questions, please see Jennifer Brennan in the Microbiology Administration Office.

Barbara H. Iglewski Receives The Eastman Medal at 2019 Commencement

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Barbara H. Iglewski, professor and chair emerita in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the School of Medicine and Dentistry, has contributed landmark research on how bacteria cause infections. Her laboratory was the first to discover that bacteria use a communication system to coordinate attacks on human cells and initiate disease, and her work launched an entire field of study into how the system works in many types of bacteria. Several drugs that interrupt the bacterial communication process, thereby preventing infections, have been developed based on her work.

Barbara Iglewski is a trailblazer who paved the way for many other female scientists and leaders in Rochester and across the country.

Iglewski was the first female department chair at the School of Medicine and Dentistry and a trailblazer who paved the way for many other female scientists and leaders in Rochester and across the country. She pursued a career in science after accompanying her father, a country physician, on house calls. She received her Ph.D. in microbiology from Penn State University, and was recruited to the University of Rochester in 1986 to serve as chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

She holds seven patents, has published more than 180 papers and book chapters, and has received many awards and honors, including from the National Institutes of Health and the American Society for Microbiology. In 2015, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, and has been recognized with the School of Medicine and Dentistry’s Lifetime Mentoring Award (2009), the Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award (2001), and the Arthur Kornberg Research Award (1999). She served as president of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) from 1987 to 1988, and chaired its publications board from 1990 to 1999.

URMC and MBI awards for Excellence in Teaching and Research Winners

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Please join our department in congratulating this year’s winners of the URMC and MBI awards for Excellence in Teaching and Research.

 

  • Maureen Banach - Co-recipient, Melville A. Hare Award for Excellence in Graduate Research
  • Maxime Jean - Co-recipient, Melville A. Hare Award for Excellence in Graduate Research
  • Zanah Francis - Melville A. Hare Award for Excellence in Graduate Teaching

BMB Graduates Receive College Prizes

Thursday, May 2, 2019

2019 College Prize Recipients

  • Katherine Woo: Ayman Amin-Salem Memorial Prize
  • Fayth Kim: the Janet Howell Clark Prize
  • Nicholas Lim: Irene Bush Steinbock Award
  • Kavya Bana: Helen S. Jones Memorial Fund

Research Roundup: Stephen Dewhurst Explores the Latest Bench-to-Bedside Projects

Monday, April 8, 2019

Transitions and Trials

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research

Almost 10 years ago, Brad Berk had the idea that the Medical Center should position itself to take a lead in the new field of cell-based therapies by constructing a manufacturing facility that could produce those cells under the highly regulated conditions that are required by the FDA. Brad’s vision was that, by doing this, we would enable UR to deliver first-in-human therapies to patients.

Fast forward, and the facility we built – the Upstate Stem Cell cGMP Facility (USCGF) – is working in coordination with Torque Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA) to produce modified T cells that are being infused into cancer patients as part of a clinical trial that started earlier this month.

As with most research partnerships, our relationship with Torque is fundamentally a relationship between people, and an expression of trust in the team led by USCGF Director Luisa Caetano-Davies. It’s worth noting that only two years ago, Luisa was a postdoctoral fellow in Chris Proschel’s lab. Her subsequent success and growth are the combined result of a lot of hard work, intelligence and – in no small measure – opportunities created by our URBEST program.

The Torque trial is a huge step for the USCGF because it represents the first time that a cell-based product produced by our facility has been administered to human subjects. But it’s also an important step for our Medical Center, when viewed in the broader context of our evolving approach to clinical trials.

Pat Ames is heading up a new Office of Clinical Research, working with Martin Zand, Steven Wormsley and many others to lead the implementation of a clinical trial management system to improve our clinical trials infrastructure. This system will streamline and automate many cumbersome clinical research processes and reduce administrative burden on our research teams, helping us conduct more clinical trials and offer more treatments to our patients and community members.

At the same time, Paul Barr in the Wilmot Cancer Institute (WCI) was just awarded a major new grant to support WCI involvement in National Cancer Institute (NCI) cooperative group clinical trials. This award establishes URMC as one of 30 lead academic sites within the NCI consortium, a designation rarely given to an institution that (currently) does not have an NCI-designated cancer center.

Perhaps most exciting of all, Mark Noble and Nimish Mohile recently received a highly encouraging score for a proposal that would (if funded, as we hope it will be!) launch a first-in-human trial of a new cancer treatment that is the result of fundamental research conducted in the Noble laboratory. Based on a new tumor-specific vulnerability, and discovery of existing drugs with the unexpected property of attacking this vulnerability, the new therapy eliminates cancer stem cells in glioblastoma (one of the most deadly human cancers).

This is exactly the kind of bench-to-bedside science that Brad envisaged ten years ago. We’ve made lots of progress, and there’s more to come. It’s an exciting time to be involved in research at the Medical Center.

These less common proteins may help fend off the flu

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Influenza type B, though generally less widespread than type A, poses a formidable threat for vulnerable populations like the elderly and the young. In the 2012-2013 flu season, for example, influenza type B caused the majority of deaths due to flu among children, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Findings published this week in mBio, ASM's open access journal, suggest that an efficient way to boost the efficacy of vaccines against influenza type B might be hiding in plain sight.

The researchers report that neuraminidase (NA), a protein found in small amounts in current vaccines, prompts the immune system to produce antibodies that may mount a broad protective response against influenza B viruses. Previous studies have connected NA antibodies to protection against the flu -- likely by preventing the spread of infection -- but this new study is among the first to show how that mechanism might be exploited for future, broad-acting flu vaccines.

"Targeting this type of vaccine response can help us develop a universal vaccine," said influenza virologist Luis Martinez-Sobrido, PhD, at the University of Rochester in New York. He co-led the study with immunologist James Kobie, PhD, also at Rochester.

Read More: These less common proteins may help fend off the flu

Research Roundup: Dealing with Failure and an Unfunded Grant Application

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., Vice Dean for Research

It’s something we rarely talk about: how it feels when a grant application isn’t funded. And yet, it’s by far the most common outcome for any such submission – an unavoidable consequence of paylines that are in the low teens or single digits.

The months between the submission of a grant and its review pass surprisingly quickly. And then time slows to a crawl.  The self-doubt and self-criticism become more insistent.  And hope flickers – such a fragile thing, in the end.

Recently, after submitting a grant application, I found myself logging onto the NIH website every day after the review panel had met, to see if the scores had been posted.  Eventually, they appeared.

This particular grant isn’t going to be funded.

It’s a horrible feeling.  A private hurt that’s immeasurably hard to share with colleagues, family and friends. That’s because the narrative is one of failure.

But, I’ve chosen to write about it anyway – because we’ve all been here.  Because shame thrives in secrecy and loses its power when we talk about it (something I learned from Brené Brown).

What has helped is input from friends. One wrote:  “Thank you for sharing this. I’m glad you did. As Directors etc., we don’t share enough of the worries, the worthiness/unworthiness and the vulnerabilities that things like grants.... bring to the work and to our sense of ourselves as ‘good’ researchers, colleagues, leaders and people.”

She went on to say: “I wish I had great advice. I have nothing. Except that you are a good person, a good mentor.... and whatever happens, you will still be those things. If you receive the grant, you know what your work will be; if you don’t, you will have new and different work to do.”

She’s right.

It’s also true that a life in science requires resilience -- the ability to pick oneself up after a fall and to learn and improve from failure.  No one ever said that it would be easy.

In a few weeks, the summary statement will be released and I’ll start thinking (with my colleagues) about ways to address the reviewers’ concerns.  Until then, I’ll keep a space in my heart for these words of Samuel Beckett: “I can’t go on. I’ll go on.”