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Who We Are


  • Dr. Oliver Garden
  • Dr. Jie Luo
    • Jie is a Senior Research Investigator and manager of the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory.Jie Luo PhD, Oliver Garden Lab, Penn Vet
    • Jie graduated from the Beijing Normal University in 1993 with a degree in Biochemistry, after which he completed a Master’s in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. From 1996 to 1999, Jie successfully completed a PhD program in Molecular Biology at the Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing
    • Jie has an interest and expertise in autoimmune disease, in particular myasthenia gravis (MG), in which he has made several ground-breaking discoveries over the past decade. Jie hails from Dr. Jon Lindstrom’s lab at the Perelman School of Medicine and has an interest in advancing this work into clinical patients (dogs) with MG, with the aim of developing novel antigen-specific immunotherapies for both canine and human patients.
    • A longstanding goal of Jie’s research has been to try to better understand the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases like MG, ultimately to develop curative treatments for them. Autoimmune diseases happen when the body's immune system turns against itself, attacking it as if it were a foreign pathogen. A key challenge to developing therapies for autoimmune diseases is maintaining the balance between resistance and tolerance within a host, while inhibiting the adverse immune response. Jie believes that the answer to this challenge lies in the specificity of the therapy. 

      Many attempts to specifically suppress experimental autoimmune MG (EAMG) have used recombinant fragments or peptides derived from the extracellular portion of the acetyl choline receptor (AChR). This was based on an assumption that antigen-specific immunosuppression of an autoimmune disease requires the use of disease-inducing epitopes. Therefore, the antigen-specific approach has commonly been associated with the perception of insurmountable obstacles. Jie's research contributes to this endeavor by providing a novel approach to antigen-specific immunotherapy for EAMG that successfully circumvents these problems by suppressing the disease with a vaccine consisting of the cytoplasmic domains of human muscle AChR subunits. This approach not only enables antigen-specific immunosuppression of the autoimmune response to AChRs in a safe manner, but also highlights a new path towards antigen-specific immunotherapies for many autoimmune diseases in which autoantigens are transmembrane proteins. Ongoing work is addressing the mechanisms by which this therapy works, translating rodent studies into a spontaneous large animal model that recapitulates the human disease. These will provide proof-of-principle that will inform and accelerate human clinical trials.
    • In his spare time, Jie enjoys (in his words) “.. troubleshooting and fixing complex mechanical problems for a wide range of devices, such as watches, appliances, and even cars.” He says: “Unfortunately, so far organisms remain the most difficult to troubleshoot and fix!”

Current Staff

Oliver Garden's team comprises clinical and research staff, including veterinarians, doctoral candidates, post-doctoral fellows, research assistants, interns, residents, and students.

Meet the current members of the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Lab team.

  • Dr. Julia (Ying) Wu
    • Julia Ying WuJulia is a postdoctoral Research Specialist in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory.
    • Julia graduated from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in 2009 with a Bachelor's degree in Biology. She then finished a two-year MPhil in Microbiology at the HKU in 2012 and worked as a research assistant before and after receiving her degree.
    • Following the completion of a Master’s in Immunology at Imperial College London in 2014, Julia completed a three-year PhD within the Garden Immune Regulation Laboratory when it was based at the Royal Veterinary College, studying the role of regulatory T cells in canine diffuse large B cell lymphoma as a model for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She has now moved across the pond, joining the myasthenia gravis research team in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory while also retaining an interest in cancer by collaborating with Dr. Jenny Lenz on a project examining alternative treatment protocols for canine T cell lymphoma, involving flow cytometry of peripheral regulatory cell populations in treated patients.
    • In her leisure time, Julia enjoys traveling and practicing Chinese calligraphy.
  • Mr. Brandon Lawson
    • Brandon Lawson, Penn VetBrandon is a Research Assistant in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory.
    • Brandon graduated from Samford University in 2018 with a Bachelor's degree in Biochemistry and Physics, undertaking auxiliary studies in Western philosophy. 
    • Brandon’s focus is on producing vaccine components and conducting in vivo work for myasthenia gravis. 
    • In his personal time, Brandon enjoys cooking, reading, and spending time outdoors with his dog, Bernie. He aspires to pursue a graduate degree in biophysics.
  • Ms. Victoria Leopardi
    • victoria-leopardiVictoria is a rising second year veterinary student at PennVet. She is a part of the NIH/ Boehringer Ingelheim Summer Research Program completing her project in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory.
    • Victoria received her undergraduate degree from McGill University in 2019, focusing her senior honors research project on the role of MxB in the innate immune response to HIV and HSV-1 infection.. 
    • In her spare time, she enjoys painting, weightlifting, and volunteering at the local animal shelter.
  • Mr. Fenix (Yiyun) Peng
    • Fenix-PengFenix is a research specialist in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory.
    • Fenix graduated from Franklin and Marshall College in 2020 with a Bachelor's degree in Biology and a minor in Chemistry. 
    • Fenix is working on designing a chimeric antigen receptor regulatory T cell (CAR-Treg) therapy in the Experimental Autoimmune Myasthenia Gravis (EAMG) rodent model. 
    • In his spare time, Fenix enjoys cooking and playing video games. He is planning to pursue a PhD degree in microbiology and immunology.

Collaborating Scientists

  • Dr. Eric Lancaster
    • Dr. Eric Lancaster is a clinical neurologist and researcher at the Perelman School of Medicine, specializing in autoimmune neuropathies and neuromuscular disorders. 
    • Our collaboration with Dr. Lancaster is focused on autoimmune encephalitis, a complex neurological disease in which the body produces antibodies against certain cells in the brain, resulting in inflammation and debilitating neurologic and psychiatric symptoms. Together, we are attempting to create an animal model of LGI-1 autoimmune encephalitis, which could provide crucial insight into this rare but devastating disease.
  • Dr. James Riley
    • Dr. James Riley is a microbiologist and member of faculty at Penn Medicine Center for Cellular Immunotherapies. Dr. Riley’s laboratory primarily studies regulatory T cells and their modulation through T cell receptors (TCRs) and chimeric antigen receptors (CARs).
    • In collaboration with Dr. Gavin Ellis, a postdoctoral fellow in the Riley Lab, we are exploring the development of CAR-Tregs and their potential use in treating autoimmune diseases such as myasthenia gravis.

Undergraduate Student

The Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory welcomes undergraduate students benefiting from the Work Study Placement Program.

  • Mr. Andrew Pham
    • Andrew Pham, Penn VetAndrew is an undergraduate student studying Biology, with a focus on mechanisms of disease, at the University of Pennsylvania School of Arts and Sciences.
    • Andrew is part of the myasthenia gravis research team, with a focus on developing antigen-specific therapies for the disease.
    • In his free time, Andrew enjoys fishing, playing volleyball, and watching television series such as Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones.

Alumni

  • Ms. Sabina Hlavaty
    • Sabina Hlavaty, Penn VetSabina earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 2013, focusing her senior thesis research on the development of marmoset fetal orofacial movements.
    • After graduation, Sabina joined the National Cancer Institute as a post-baccalaureate research fellow, studying the kinase activity of BRD4. She came to Penn Vet in the fall of 2016, completing her first year of veterinary school prior to taking a leave of absence from her studies in order to perform research full-time.
    • Sabina spent two years in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Lab studying the role of myeloid-derived suppressor cells in cancer, with a special emphasis on using the dog as a model to study these cells. During her time in the lab, she was awarded the prestigious Howard Hughes Medical Institute-Burroughs Welcome Fund Medical Research Fellowship.
    • At the completion of her fellowship, Sabina joined the VMD-PhD program at Penn Vet, where she is pursuing a PhD in cancer biology in conjunction with her veterinary degree. Sabina is ultimately interested in a career that combines her passion for veterinary medicine and cancer research.
  • Dr. Dammy Pinheiro
    • Dammy Pinheiro 180Dammy graduated from King’s College London with a Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Immunology in 2006. From 2006 to 2010, Dammy completed a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Collaborative Awards in Science and Engineering PhD Studentship focusing on canine regulatory T cells (Tregs) under Oliver’s supervision at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC).
    • Continuing her association with the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory while it was based at the RVC, Dammy undertook a Postdoctoral Fellowship studying the role of Tregs in canine lymphoma. In 2013, Dammy moved to the Translational Medicine group at the University of Reading to start a Postdoctoral Research Associate post, working on the induction of tolerance in gene therapy.
    • Dammy has since moved to Imperial College London, where she is currently a Post-Doctoral Research Associate working on macrophage biology. 
  • Dr. Michelle Goulart
    • Michelle Goulart, Penn VetMichelle graduated from the Universidade Federal de Uberlandia, Brazil in 2002. After four years of private veterinary practice in Brazil, she decided to advance her scientific knowledge by pursuing clinical research in the United States.
    • In 2008, Michelle became a Research Assistant in the Translational Brain Tumor Laboratory at the University of Minnesota and started a Master's degree. The excitement of enriching her knowledge in the field of tumor immunology stimulated her to convert the Master's to a PhD program, which she successfully defended in 2014.
    • From 2014 to 2015, Michelle completed a rotating internship in small animal medicine and surgery at Oregon State University. Following this year of clinical training, Michelle accepted a post-doctoral fellowship in cancer immunology within the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory when it was based at the Royal Veterinary College. Her interest was in understanding immune regulatory mechanisms in canine B cell lymphoma and other cancers, in particular the role of myeloid-derived suppressor cells.
    • Michelle successfully concluded her project, moving on to a prestigious postdoctoral fellowship at the Barts Cancer Institute, Queen Mary University of London in 2017. She is currently working in the team of Professor Hemant Kocher on pancreatic cancer.
  • Dr. James Swann
    • Dr. James SwannJames was a resident in small animal medicine at the Royal Veterinary College at the time he completed his research project in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory.
    • James’ work interrogated the immunopathogenesis of canine immune-mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA), yielding a paper in PLoS One.
    • James also worked with Oliver on two American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine Consensus Statements on IMHA published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, one on diagnosis and the other on treatment.
    • James is currently completing a DPhil in the laboratory of Dr. Thibault Griseri at the Kennedy Institute, University of Oxford, examining the impact of systemic inflammatory diseases on hematopoiesis.
  • Mr. Michael Denyer
    • Michael-Denyer, Garden LabMichael graduated from the University of Oxford in 2001, having completed a Bachelor’s degree in Computation. He then pursued a career in IT within the financial services industry, culminating as the head of IT and a partner of the wealth manager Ruffer LLP.
    • In 2013, Michael made a bold change of career direction, enrolling to study for an MRes in Bioinformatics at Birkbeck, where his research focused on cytotoxic T-cell mediated influenza evolution. Having been awarded a Bloomsbury College Studentship at the Royal Veterinary College in the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council London Interdisciplinary Biosciences Consortium PhD Program in October 2014, he undertook research on the evolution of immune regulation centered on the regulatory T cell interactome.
    • Michael worked on establishing the developmental and suppressive mechanisms within the regulatory T cell interactome in avian species, as definitive evidence of FoxP3 expression in birds remains elusive. This work was conducted in collaboration with Dr. Adrian Shepherd at Birkbeck.
  • Ms. Natalie Gibbons
    • Natalie-Gibbons, Garden LabNatalie spent time in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory as part of her intercalated Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Pathology while at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). She spent four months researching monocyte heterogeneity in healthy dogs, partly funded by the Kennel Club International Canine Health Student Inspiration Award, yielding a short communication published in Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology.
    • Natalie is now completing her veterinary studies at the RVC before entering general small animal veterinary practice. She hopes to incorporate research into her subsequent career.
    • Natalie’s hobbies include art, gymnastics, and Muay Thai.
  • Mr. Luca Fortuna
    • Luca Fortuna, Garden LabLuca spent time in the Garden & Luo Immune Regulation Laboratory as part of his intercalated Bachelor’s degree in Comparative Pathology while at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), subsequently continuing this work during a summer studentship. Luca examined the relationship between regulatory T cells and hypoxia in canine tumors, presenting this work at the Annual General Meeting of the Association for Veterinary Teaching and Research Work.
    • Luca’s work yielded a paper published in the Journal of Comparative Pathology.
    • Luca is currently completing his veterinary studies, in which he is developing a particular interest in small animal oncology and soft tissue surgery.
    • After graduation, Luca wishes to pursue further specialist training, giving him the opportunity to continue his research interests alongside his work as a clinician.