Cellular clues to preventing graft-versus-host disease

Wednesday, 26 Apr 2017

Describe the aim of this project in 10 words.

Identifying transcription factors that drive the development of type 1 regulatory T (Tr1) cells.

What have you discovered so far?

Tr1 cells have potent immunosuppressive properties and play a crucial role in preventing graft-versus-host disease. We found that the transcription factor Eomesodermin (Eomes), as a marker, can reliably identify Tr1 cells after bone marrow transplantation.  As a transcription factor, Eomes also promotes the development of Tr1 cells. Currently, the major obstacle to applying Tr1 cells to cell therapy is the inability to generate pure and stable Tr1 cells ex vivo.  Our findings make it possible to generate large amounts of Tr1 cells ex vivo for cell therapy purposes.

What aspect of this research excites you the most?

Based on our findings, we can generate large numbers of highly pure Tr1 cells in the laboratory for the treatment or prevention of immune mediated diseases, in our case, graft-versus-host disease. Importantly, we found an alternative candidate for FoxP3+ regulatory T cells, which are necessary for immune balance but impaired both numerically and fundamentally in many immune mediated disorders.

What’s your Holy Grail – the one thing you’d like to achieve in your career?

I will be very happy if my research findings can be finally translated into clinical applications and benefit patients.

What is your biggest research hurdle?


How long before this work impacts patient care?

I would say five years. We are currently optimising the generation of large amounts of pure Tr1 cell product and will test its efficacy in mouse models. We will subsequently validate our findings from mouse models using human cells ex vivo. Based on the results, we will carry out clinical trials, which will ultimately benefit selected patients.

Who has inspired you and why?

My MD supervisor Dr Mingzhe Han. Help other people whenever you can and you can get help when you are in need.

What other interests help create work-life balance for you?

Reading something irrelevant to work, like stories about history. Three Kingdoms is a fiction based on real history. I can kill time by worrying about the destiny of the ancient figures.

Surprising favourite foods?

Stir fried potato slices with chilli.

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