The ultimate goal of the research in our laboratory is to understand the immunological mechanisms of autoimmunity. We are primarily interested in T cell mediated autoimmunity and mechanisms of T cell function in health and disease. The majority of our work is focused on type 1 autoimmune diabetes, which results from T cell mediated destruction of insulin producing beta cells in the pancreas. Loss of beta cells leads to dysregulation of glucose metabolism and a life-long dependency on insulin injections. There is no cure for type 1 diabetes, and we still have limited understanding of the immunologic and metabolic dysfunction that ultimately leads to beta cell loss. Members of the laboratory utilize genetically modified mouse models, flow cytometry, transcriptional analysis and metabolic assays to study the interactions between the immune system and metabolism. Our goal is to understand why self-tolerance mechanisms fail in autoimmunity, and whether we can identify immunologic or metabolic pathways that can be manipulated to reverse this process. We are particularly interested in a special population of T cells that can suppress autoimmunity – Foxp3+ regulatory T cells. Regulatory T cells employ multiple mechanisms to maintain immune and metabolic homeostasis, suppress autoimmunity, and aid in tissue repair. Our laboratory has shown that T cell receptor signaling can modulate the type and amplitude of regulatory T cell suppressive mechanisms, which suggests that there are sub-populations of cells with specialized functions. Current work in the lab is focused on further understanding of T cell receptor signaling and downstream suppressive functions in regulatory T cell populations. Additional projects are focused on transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms associated with chronic T cell activation and inflammation in autoimmunity.
My training philosophy is guided by emphasis on tangible accomplishments that promote student learning and career development. We start by identifying specific goals, followed by developing step-by-step activities to achieve these goals (i.e. starting by first writing an abstract). I believe this structured approach to scientific career building has allowed my trainees to reach their objectives in record amount of time. For example, my first graduate student graduated under five years with seven publications, on four of which she was the first author. In my experience, undergraduate research can be an exciting first exposure to the scientific method. Most of the undergraduates that I have trained have fun and engaging experiences in the lab, and that can be easily achieved in a lab with a collegial atmosphere. However, tangible accomplishments can be challenging for undergraduate trainees due to their limited time in the lab. Therefore, our approach is to create a structured environment built on early planning and weekly scheduled interactions to ensure the best path for success. We will develop a research plan guided by pre-determined assigned reading based on already ongoing projects. In parallel to learning experimental techniques in the lab, the student will have continuous mentorship to achieve a step-wise progress in generating a poster and a power point presentation, since the two activities have a large degree of overlap. We will achieve this through using examples, templates from the lab, and several iterations of the drafts based on our discussions in our weekly meetings.