An Investigator in the Section on Immunobiology, Dr. Serwold studies how T cells of the immune-system cells are generated—research that helps to shed light on what causes type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.
T cells develop in the thymus, where multiple cell types, including thymic epithelial cells, train them not to attack the body's own cells. T cells that might attack the body's own tissues are usualy eliminated before they mature and exit the thymus, but this process is not 100% efficient, and in patient with type 1 diabetes, T cells that escape elimination in the thymus end up targeting insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.
The Serwold lab is focusing on the cellular mechanisms that prevent autoimmune T cells from developing, with the idea that insights into this process will enable the design of novel strategies for preventing autoimmunity. In one line of research, the Serwold lab is identifying factors that activate promote growth and enhance the function of thymic epithelial cells, which are the primary mediators of T cell development. Manipulation of thymic epithelial cells has the potential to enhance immune tolerance mechanisms, and has promise for inhibiting autoimmunity.
In related research, the Serwold lab is investigating novel approaches for delivering proteins to the thymus to promote immune tolerance. A key aspect of these research efforts is the ability to detect autoimmune T cells. The lab is also developing tools for the sensitive detection of autoimmune T cells.