Our lab aims to identify factors that contribute to the development of autoimmunity, which encompasses over 100 diseases in which the immune system begins to target healthy parts of the body. We do this by unravelling the complex interactions between the cells and molecules that control the production of potent, long-lasting antibody responses, and identifying genetic abnormalities that interfere with this process in patients with autoimmune diseases.
In our research to date, we have identified genes, cell types and checkpoints that are important to prevent autoimmune diseases in which antibodies are harmful. A particular focus has been investigating two specific types of immune cells - the T cells responsible for helping and regulating B cell responses, known as follicular helper (Tfh) and follicular regulatory (Tfr) cells respectively. We recently discovered that Tfr cells produce a protein called neuritin that limits B cells' autoimmune and allergy response.
Our team is also working towards connecting genetic variation in humans to autoimmune disease to identify more targeted treatments. Through sequencing DNA from patients with different forms of autommunity like lupus, our lab members have identified new and rare variants that show the roles of specific genes in immunological tolerance, the immune system's ability to distinguish harmful foreign microbes or antigens (“non-self”), from harmless self-antigens that form part of our own tissues and organs. These discoveries are helping us to create disease models that we can use to understand the development of autoimmune diseases, refine diagnosis, and trial new treatments.