Center for Immunobiology grows, bolsters program

July 19, 2019

The Vanderbilt Center for Immunobiology (VCI) has relaunched its mission with a greater focus on human immunology, an endeavor supported by additional researchers, more funding support and designation as a Center of Excellence.

“We are focusing on human immune diseases and trying to integrate genetics as a way to drive innovation,” said Jeffrey Rathmell, PhD, director of VCI and Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Immunobiology.

In May, VCI received the Center of Excellence designation from the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies (FOCIS), an organization that fosters interdisciplinary approaches to understand and treat immune-based diseases. In June, Vanderbilt University awarded Trans-Institutional Programs (TIPS) funding to the Human Immunology Discovery Initiative (HIDI), a collaborative effort led by VCI. Over the last two years, VCI has bolstered its team with the recruitment of three highly respected researchers.

“Immunology represents an important strategic area for continued growth at Vanderbilt University Medical Center,” said Jennifer Pietenpol, PhD, Executive Vice President for Research at VUMC, director of Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, B.F. Byrd Jr. Professor of Oncology and holder of the Brock Family Directorship in Career Development. “We are pleased that VCI and Dr. Rathmell’s leadership are being recognized through this Center of Excellence designation, which further positions Vanderbilt as an internationally recognized leader in immunology research that improves human health.”

Recent medical advances in human immunology, including immunotherapies for cancer, bring the potential for new treatments for other diseases.

“What the relaunch of the VCI is about is the further recognition that immunology now touches every field,” Rathmell said. “Every disease area has some component of tissue inflammation, where the hematopoietic system, the immune system, becomes involved either to fight off potentially the pathogen, the tumor or some other damage, but then also participate in the repair process of that tissue.”

The TIPS funding gives Vanderbilt researchers the resources to investigate and better understand diseases of the immune system. Techniques such as high-dimensional flow cytometry or cell cytometry will visualize cell activity to connect genetic information.

“It’s an effort to do immune phenotyping on patients with immunologic diseases and partner that with efforts at the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute to see if there are genetic signatures that associate with specific immune states and phenotypes,” Rathmell said.

High dimensional flow cytometry or cell cytometry will be utilized to visualize cell activity.

The HIDI will initially focus on two patient groups: Adults with autoimmune diseases and children with immune system disorders. Rathmell and colleagues will work closely with the Vanderbilt Rheumatology Clinic and the Comprehensive Hematology, Immunology and Infectious Disease Program at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt.

The researchers will also use CRISPR, a technology for editing genomes, to study inborn errors of human immunity in mouse models.

VUMC has the article