My laboratory studies the natural killer (NK) cell and the molecules that control its ability to recognize and kill cancer and virally infected cells. Improved understanding of how NK cells behave is critical to advancing our ability to harness their innate capacity for tumor recognition and eradication. Therefore, an important component of my research focuses on the basic biology of the NK cell, identifying the molecules involved in controlling NK reactivity, and determining the laboratory and clinical conditions under which NK activity can be modified.
A major focus of my laboratory is the role of NK cells in controlling leukemia relapse in bone marrow transplantation. We have shown that specific combinations of KIR and HLA genes and alleles can be predictive of improved outcomes in transplant patients. We are using this information to select donors for blood and marrow transplantation to minimize the risk of disease relapse following the procedure.
We are also investigating the role of NK cells in controlling other cancers, in particular the pediatric tumor neuroblastoma. These studies have led to a new treatment protocol combining monoclonal antibodies with NK cells for the treatment of high-risk neuroblastoma patients.
NK cells are critical in the immune response to viral infection. Our laboratory studies both human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and human cytomegalovirus (CMV), with a goal of identifying the mechanisms by which these diseases evade immune detection and shape the immune repertoire.
Our work bridges both basic biology and clinical research. Because of the translational nature of our studies, laboratory members include both basic scientists and clinicians. Fundamental to our work is the generous contribution of the clinical services — patients, physicians, and hospital staff, without whom our work would be impossible.