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At the Forefront of Genetics Research
CHORI Scientist Leads Natural Killer Cell Research with 3 New Grants

“Natural killer cells are your first line of defense against virus, and they play an important role in elicit-ing innate immune response against pathogens and tumor cells.”

CHORI scientist Elizabeth Trachtenberg, PhD, a geneticist and clinical research investigator for CHORI’s Center for Genetics and Center for Cancer, has recently landed 3 highly competitivegrants to investigate the role of natural killer (NK) cells in multiple sclerosis (MS), HIV and organ transplantation.

NK cells kill virally infected cells and secrete immunological hormones, called cytokines, which help regulate the rest of the immune response. In addition, NK cells have cell surface receptors, called killer-immunoglobulin-like receptors, or KIR, which recognize HLA class I ligands.

“HLA class I molecules are expressed on all cell surfaces except germ cell lines, so if a cell doesn’t express HLA class I, the KIR will not recognize the cell and the NK will kill it,” says Dr. Trachtenberg, who has been pursing the genetics and biology of the human immune system for almost 2 decades.

“This is a whole new arena of immunology that is just beginning to be understood,” Dr. Trachtenberg explains.

As part of Dr. Trachtenberg’s research, she and her colleagues developed a mass spectrometry test to conduct high through-put analyses of KIR single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs. The development of this novel assay was key to catapulting Dr. Trachtenberg’s lab into the forefront of international NK genetics.

“KIR has been incredibly challenging to genotype – there are anywhere between 7 and 17 genes in all different combinations of inhibitory or stimulatory forms per individual,” says Dr. Trachtenberg.

Before Dr. Trachtenberg’s lab developed this technique, it was common to use much larger quantities of DNA in very complex and time consuming assays that were not always as accurate.

“Now, we can use very tiny amounts of DNA and produce highly accurate results very efficiently. It’s given us a big jump on the KIR genetics and molecular epidemiology arenas,” says Dr. Trachtenberg.

As a result, Dr. Trachtenberg has garnered 3 new grants which will seek to further determine the role of NK cells and KIR in auto-immune related diseases, HIV and in organ transplantation. December’s news update highlights “The Role of KIR and HLA in Multiple Sclerosis,” a National Institute’s of Health grant funded for ~600 thousand dollars. Check back next month for KIR and HLA on HIV disease progression.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 8:19 AM

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