Penn Vet has strong immunology research programs focusing on understanding basic immunologic mechanisms and how to develop new therapeutics for controlling disease.
Several Penn Vet immunologists investigate how pathogens interact with the immune system. Many of these laboratories focus on the study of parasites. Dr. Chris Hunter’s laboratory is devoted to defining the immune cells and cytokines that contribute to either the resolution of infection or the immunopathology caused by the protozoan parasite, Toxoplasma gondii. Studies in Dr. Phil Scott‘s laboratory involve understanding how memory T cells develop in order to design vaccines for a wide range of diseases, including leishmaniasis, as well as defining mechanisms used by the Leishmania parasites to evade the immune response.
In Dr. Jay Farrell’s laboratory studies are focused on the identification of factors that regulate susceptibility versus resistance in mice infected with the protozoan parasites, Leishmania major and Leishmania donovani. The laboratory of Dr. Pearce investigates how schistosomes modulate the immune response to decrease immunopathology, and the role of dendritic cells in the recognition of pathogens and the induction of adaptive immune responses. Dr. David Artis has ongoing studies to gain a better understanding of the immuno-regulatory mechanisms that govern the initiation, regulation, and effector responses following gastrointestinal helminth infection. The Artis laboratory also addresses questions about mucosal immune responses, such as how to promote protective immune responses in the gut, while blocking inappropriate immune responses that cause diseases, such as inflammatory bowel disease. In order to develop and regulate an effective immune response it is important to define how lymphocytes move around the body.
Dr. Gudrun Debes studies the migration of T cells, specifically focusing on how T cells exit from the tissues under both normal conditions and during infection-induced inflammation. In addition, some Penn Vet laboratories focus on how to develop or improve vaccines for specific pathogens, including herpes virus (Dr. Roselyn Eisenberg), smallpox, yersinia (Dr. Deiter Schifferli), and paratuberculosis (Dr. Ray Sweeney). In the clinics, Dr. Dan Morris studies hypersensitivity to fungus in dogs.
In Dr. Oriol Sunyer’s laboratory there is a specific focus on understanding the role of the complement system of teleost fish in innate and adaptive immunity, and elucidating the evolutionary history of the components, molecular pathways and cells involved in these ancient immune processes. This research has direct implications in the development of new molecular adjuvants that will be useful in fish.
Understanding the basic mechanisms that shape the immune response to tumors has direct implications for the development of new therapies for cancer. Dr. Mike Atchison’s laboratory explores the functions of a number of transcription factors that regulate immunoglobulin gene expression and that play important roles in lineage differentiation, embryonic development, and in oncogenesis. Protein ubiquitination and degradation have emerged as important mechanisms in regulating cell growth and survival that play a key role in cancer, and Dr. Serge Fuch’s laboratory currently focuses on the disregulated proteolysis of cytokine and hormone receptors in human malignant melanomas and breast cancers. In Dr. Bruce Freedman’s laboratory the main focus is signaling pathways that regulate lymphocyte and macrophage development and function, work that has ramifications in understanding immune responses to both infections and tumors.
Recent sequencing of the canine genome has revealed a close phylogenetic relationship between man and dog and both species spontaneously develop cancers that have similar biological, behavioral and genetic characteristics. Dr. Nicola Mason’s laboratory focuses on the bench to bedside development of novel immunotherapeutic strategies to augment cytotoxic T cell responses against common cancers in domestic dogs. Evaluation of the safety and efficacy of novel therapeutic approaches used to treat privately owned dogs with advanced cancers aims to provide important pre-clinical data for human cancer patients as well as develop novel therapies for canine cancer patients.
Dr. Peter Felsburg studies the role of the common gamma chain in lymphoid development and function. This laboratory has identified and characterized X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency (XSCID) in dogs, and has used this model to make significant advances that improve immune reconstitution following hematopoietic stem cell transplantation and gene therapy.