Discovery Horizons

Discovery Horizons

Discovery Horizons

image description From left: Caroline Stefani, Senior Post Doctoral Research Associate, Lacy-Hulbert Lab, and Thomas Skillman, Immersive Science

Expansion and VR Enlarge Tiny Microbes for Disease Studies

A research team from BRI and Carnegie Mellon University paired a nanoscale imaging technique with virtual reality technology to create a method that allows researchers to “step inside” their biological data. The innovation enables better visualization and interpretation of data from cell microscopy, enabling scientists to enlarge, explore and analyze cell structures far beyond the capabilities of traditional light microscopy.

The development of these technologies, a two-step process funded through Grand Challenges, an initiative of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, will accelerate researchers’ understanding of infectious and autoimmune diseases and enhance their ability to develop disease diagnostics and methods for prevention and treatment.

The virtual reality technology was developed by Tom Skillman, BRI’s former director of research technology. The eventual goal is for the VR tool to be shared on open platforms with other researchers along with expansion microscopy so that they too can view new details of disease processes and understand larger, more complex sets of data.

Contract and Grants Awarded to Improve Treatments for Autoimmune Disease and Cancer

BRI scientists received a contract award from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease to identify the targets of immune cells in the joints of individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.

The funding will enable profiling of the tissue and blood of people with rheumatoid arthritis. Ultimately, the goal will be to directly target those cells that attach to the joints in rheumatoid arthritis to prevent autoimmunity — and stop the disease.

Two new grants will be leveraged to identify biomarkers that predict the success of checkpoint inhibitor immunotherapy drugs used to treat certain types of cancer.

Despite the success of checkpoint inhibitors at improving cancer survival rates, they do not work in all patients and often have serious side effects, including sudden-onset symptoms of autoimmune disease.

With funding from the National Cancer Institute, BRI scientists will take a much closer look at how immune response cells — known as T cells — are affected by checkpoint inhibitor drugs. Ultimately, the scientists hope to identify T cell biomarkers that predict which patients are at the lowest or highest risk for autoimmune effects after receiving checkpoint inhibitors. They will also explore ways to improve the ability of checkpoint inhibitors to kill cancer cells while protecting healthy tissue.

There is hope that this autoimmunity research collaboration could also shed light on the causes of type 1 diabetes in the broader population.

In a second project involving immunotherapy, BRI collaborates with the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, JDRF and The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust to understand, predict and prevent insulin-dependent diabetes following checkpoint therapy for cancer.

After treatment with checkpoint inhibitors, roughly one percent of cancer patients develop a kind of insulin-dependent diabetes that appears similar to type 1 diabetes.

The goal of the collaborative research initiative is to better understand this phenomenon and to identify the causes of diabetes in these patients.

There is hope that this autoimmunity research collaboration could also shed light on the causes of type 1 diabetes in the broader population.

More Stories