The Georgia Immunology Center’s recruits reflect the expertise of immune cells

AGUSTA, Ga. (April 6, 2023) – Immune cells that can “smell” the metabolites of the high-fat Western diet and can produce inflammation and eventually heart disease as a result, just as our “longer” RNA does in our body and its role immune cells called neutrophils in cancer and heart disease were some of the areas of pursuit of the first five scientists recruited to the Medical College of Georgia’s new Georgia Center for Immunology.

AGUSTA, Ga. (April 6, 2023) – Immune cells that can “smell” the metabolites of the high-fat Western diet and can produce inflammation and eventually heart disease as a result, just as our “longer” RNA does in our body and its role immune cells called neutrophils in cancer and heart disease were some of the areas of pursuit of the first five scientists recruited to the Medical College of Georgia’s new Georgia Center for Immunology.

The new IMMCG, led by the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars Catherine “Lynn” Hedrick, PhD, and Klaus Ley, MD, who joined the MCG on the Augusta University faculty late last summer, focuses on better understanding the role of the apparently diametrical immune system. in activating goodness. health and in contributing to major killers such as cancer and heart disease.

The first recruits give MCG more immunological strengths in key areas of medical school research and clinical expertise, Hedrick said.

Already on the ship Kunze Dong, PhD, a vascular immunologist with expertise in long noncoding RNAs, which regulate gene activity both up and down. He is the first author in a 2022 study showing that a long noncoding RNA called CARMN is found in abundance in healthy smooth muscle cells that gives our blood vessels the strength and flexibility and is significantly decreased in atherosclerosis. These findings provide more insight into how vascular disease occurs because it points to new ways to treat it. He has also studied autophagy, the basis by which the immune system removes invading microorganisms and cell debris by engulfing them, and new methods for protecting against the destructive inflammation triggered by infection and vascular disease.

Dong obtained his PhD in animal genetics, breeding and reproduction from the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing, came to MCG in 2017 as a postdoctoral fellow studying with Vascular Biologist Jiliang Zhou, PhD, in the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, and was promoted to senior postdoctoral fellow in 2021. He received an American Heart Association Career Development Award in 2022, which runs through 2025, as well as an AHA Postdoctoral Fellowship during his training. Dong also received a 2022 travel grant for early career investigators from the AHA journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology.

Marco Orecchioni, Ph.Dthe immunologist and cellular biologist, who studied with Ley at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology in California, will join the IMMCG faculty May 1. The Italian native earned his PhD from the University of Sassari, before moving to La Jolla as a postdoctoral fellow in 2017. He was promoted to instructor in 2022.

Orecchioni’s work includes elucidating the role of olfactory (smell) receptors on macrophages, immune cells that can increase and decrease inflammation and can also consume cellular debris. He is working to better understand how these receptors, which appear to be more common in disease conditions such as arteriosclerosis, affect immune cells, including promoting inflammation, and whether they provide unexplored links between diet and the development of heart disease and other metabolic problems. Her research in collaboration with Ley and Hedrick has been published in top journals including Science. The focus is on the simple chemical octanals detected by olfactory receptors, and their relationship to promoting the production of proinflammatory factors. Scientists have found levels of octanal in the blood of humans and mice that are sufficient to activate each of the receptors. When they increased the octanal level, they found it improved the characteristics of plaque in blood vessels, and when they genetically deleted the receptor, it reduced disease, findings that point to odor receptors as a good prevention and treatment target. They are also exploring the possibility that octanal may have an effect on other diseases such as cancer. Hedrick noted that despite the similarities in inflammation to major killers of cancer and cardiovascular disease, they share two distinct environments with different types of inflammation.

Orecchioni received the AHA Career Development Award in 2022 which continues to this day and received the Conrad Prebys Foundation Award in 2021. The foundation supports the arts, medical research, health care, and the success of young people in the San Diego community. He also received an AHA postdoctoral fellowship in 2018 and is an associate editor at Frontiers in Immunology.

Also from May 1 is Yanfang “Peipei” Zhu, Ph.D, a cancer immunologist coming to the MCG and IMMCG from the University of California San Diego. Zhu completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the La Jolla Institute for Immunology with Hedrick and was appointed an instructor at the institution before moving to UCSD in 2020. His research focus is neutrophils, short-lived immune cells that arrive earlier when we get bacteria. or viral infection. Their levels can shrink in response to problems such as stress, as well as congenital or more recent problems affecting their production in the bone marrow. Zhu’s lab identified a progenitor cell called NeP that only makes neutrophils and a similar one called hNeP, in both mouse and human bone marrow. They also found that when cancer is present, these progenitor cells go directly to the tumor site to support its growth. Now they want to better categorize which neutrophils and NePs support a healthy immune response versus cancer with the goal of identifying new biomarkers and treatment targets. Zhu is also currently exploring the potential role of cells in atherosclerosis. Additionally, he is an expert in next-generation sequencing technologies that enable high-throughput examination of the fine details of genomes.

Zhu earned his PhD from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky before going to Hedrick’s lab for his postdoctoral work, where he received a National Cancer Institute fellowship. He is the academic editor for Journal of Cellular Immunology and editors for Journal of Immunology and Microbiology.

Rafael S. Czepielewski, PhDs, joined IMMCG July 1 from Washington University Medical School in Saint Louis, Missouri, one of the top immunology programs in the country. The focus of research for mucosal immunologists is to better understand inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD, and changes to the lymphatic system during the course of the disease. The lymphatic system is part of the immune system defined as the tissues and organs that produce, store and carry white blood cells throughout the body where they patrol to fight infections and other invaders. IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, are both risk factors for colon cancer. Last year, Czepielewski received a Career Development Award from Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation for his work on how the cross between lymphatic vessels, the microvessels throughout the body that carry lymph (fluid) away from tissues, and immune cells control IBD. Her discoveries include tiny nests of immune cells along the lymphatic system in IBD, and now she and her new colleagues want to answer questions like how they got there and what they do.

Czepielewski received the Young Investigator Award from the 2021 Lymphatic Forum, a biannual event where researchers around the world present and discuss lymphatic studies in health and disease. In addition, he is an “incredible master of microscopy,” said Hedrick, in his case, which includes expertise in intravital microscopy, where you can see more than one biological process at a time in living research animals, such as a transparent roundworm called C. elegant.

He earned his PhD from the Pontificia Universidade Catόlica do Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil and joined the faculty as an instructor in 2021. During his PhD work, he completed an international PhD fellowship at the Icahn School of Medicine Immunology Institute at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Adil Rasyid, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow who completed his studies in vascular immunology at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Ontario, will begin at IMMCG September 11. At the Heart Institute, Rasheed was honored for his leadership in postdoctoral studies and was named the Ottawa County Cardiovascular Trainee of the year. He is a member of the journal of the American Heart Association Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Early Career Editorial Board. He is a founding member of the online community Metabolism Training Participantswhich organizes seminars and workshops on relevant topics such as effective mentoring and scientific communication.

Rasheed will carry out studies on the MLKL protein, a protein known to play a key role in programmed cell death and which at high levels is associated with inflammatory bowel disease in children. He found that the role of MLKL in cell death appears to be a factor in the accumulation of lipids and other substances in the blood vessels in atherosclerosis, and the protein has an important role as a regulator of immunity in blood vessels and possibly other metabolic diseases. Rasheed was also interested in the development of immune cells in the bone marrow, which are called hematopoiesis. He is the recipient of the journal’s 2022 Young Investigator Award STEM CELLS Translational Medicine for his pioneering research in heart disease while still working on his PhD at the University of Toronto.

Download this high-resolution photo of Kunzhe Dong, PhD, one of the recent recruits to the MCG’s new Georgia Center for Immunology, taken by AU photographer Michael Holahan.

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