More than a blood bank, Stanford Blood Center hosts sophisticated research labs on the frontlines of fighting the most serious diseases affecting us today. Here, we provide an overview of the research being conducted in our labs.
Viral Immunology Lab
The overall goal of research in the viral immunology lab is the development of an antibody-based preventive vaccine for hepatitis C virus. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the antigenic regions on the virus envelope glycoproteins, E1 and E2, which are the natural targets of virus neutralizing antibodies. A key concern is that this virus mutates very rapidly leading to viral escape. There are basically three types of antigenic regions or epitopes on E1 and E2: epitopes that are associated with viral escape, epitopes that are non-neutralizing and epitopes that are highly conserved and not associated with escape or escape with compromised viral fitness. We’ve developed data that the first two types tend to be more immunogenic and fundamentally serve as decoys of the immune response. Information on these regions will guide approaches that will down-regulate the immune response to these regions. The third type, conserved epitopes that are not associated with viral escape or associated with compromised fitness, is the one that should be incorporated in a vaccine, but is less immunogenic. We have identified a number of these regions.
Cellular Immunology Lab
The cellular immunology lab is focused on understanding the role that white blood cells play in causing disease and also exploring potential ways these cells can be used to treat disease. In the past year we have shown that a type of white blood cell causes chronic inflammation of the intestine that can lead to colorectal cancer, and we have found a treatment that can reverse this process in experimental animals. Separately, we have discovered a new way to treat cancer that utilizes both antibodies and another type of white blood cell. In experimental mice this new approach appears to be capable of treating a variety of tumors, and in the coming years we hope that it will be tested in patients.
Histocompatibility, Immunogenetics & Disease Profiling Lab
The Histocompatibility, Immunogenetics & Disease Profiling Lab has been actively involved over the past year in developing and validating new clinical tests. These will replace decades-old testing methods that have been used for determining the compatibility between patients needing a solid organ (e.g., heart, lung, kidney, pancreas, etc.) or bone marrow/stem cell transplant and their donor. The lab has developed several new methods for flow cytometry crossmatching to tell whether a patient can get an organ from a particular donor, i.e., whether the donor is “compatible”. New tests for determining how vigorously the patient will respond to try to reject the donor organ are also under development. In a separate arena, the lab has been focusing on developing state of the art, next generation or high throughput sequencing (HTS) to more completely type the genes that cause organ rejection or engraftment failure and reduce the time required to get these lifesaving results, since time is of the essence. In parallel, new HTS methods for the (much) faster detection of viruses important in the post-transplant period have been developed which will improve diagnoses and assist physicians in the selection of the appropriate drugs to both eliminate the virus and protect the transplanted organ.