Immunobiology of Cytokines

T helper cells play a central role in co-ordinating immune responses and tailoring the response to specifically target diverse pathogens we may encounter.  Critical to the activity of these cells, is the production of inter-cellular signalling molecules, called “cytokines” that instruct the activation and movement of other immune cells.  My Laboratory is predominately interested in understanding how cytokines and cytokine producing T helper cells influence the course of autoimmune disease and anti-tumour immune responses. 

We have been interested in a cytokine called Interleukin 27, which has diverse actions on different parts of the immune response. In collaboration with Dr. Cindy Ma and A/Prof. Stuart Tangye here at Garvan, we are uncovering a critical role for IL-27 in supporting the sustained production of high affinity antibodies in mice and humans.  Some autoimmune diseases, such as Lupus erythematosus, are the result of aberrant antibody production against molecules belonging to the host.  Loss of IL-27 signals reduces the severity of lupus-like disease in mice and we are further investigating the potential for IL-27 blocking agents as a therapeutic.

We, and others, have found that IL-27 signals can activate the immune response in such a way as to promote immune cell mediated protection against tumours. In collaboration with Dr. Alex Swarbrick and Dr. Daniel Christ here at Garvan, we are now investigating the use of IL-27 based therapeutics in pre-clinical models.

Recent genome wide association studies have revealed many genetic links with susceptibility to developing Multiple Sclerosis (MS). We are investigating several of these genes, trying to understand how they act in normal immune responses and how their dysregulation might lead to increased susceptibility to disease. Through understanding how the genes products work, we hope to be able to design new therapeutic strategies for MS.

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