The focus of my lab is developing and characterizing self-assembling, self-adjuvanting nanofibers and other materials to induce certain immune responses to provide another possible platform for vaccine design and other medical applications. I have been paired with Lucas Shores, a rising second year graduate student, and I am helping him to run his experiments. The project we are working on builds on past projects by Collier Group in order to better understand these peptide nanofibers. We are trying to figure out exactly how the nanofibers interact with the immune system and induce an immune response, and how to engineer this response to me more catered toward a particular disease (by, for example, engaging B cells and Tfh cells, rather than a Th1/Th2 response if you want the vaccine to activate the humoral side of the adaptive immune system).
Lucas is looking specifically at using nanofibers to target the IL-17 cytokine in order to possibly create another treatment for inflammatory diseases, like autoimmune diseases such as Rheumatoid Arthritis. IL-17 is an inflammatory molecule, and so the theory is that if a vaccine can induce an immune response to destroy or deactivate IL-17, then inflammatory symptoms would be reduced. Lucas has designed and synthesized a few peptide epitopes targeting IL-17 and is testing their effectiveness in creating an immune response in mouse models.
In addition to these mouse experiments, Lucas and I are culturing dendritic cells from a cell line in order to do experiments that investigate antigen uptake by dendritic cells and are doing lymph node immunohistochemistry in attempt to further understand which cells the nanofibers interact with when they enter the mouse.