Human immune cell recognition and communication
Each of us relies for our survival on our immune system. Recent discoveries have equipped us not only to understand that system as never before but to develop new kinds of medicine which help the system better fight cancer, for example, or dampen it to thwart auto-immune disease. New kinds of microscope, super-resolution microscopes celebrated in the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry, are one of the tools that allow us to study immune cells in unprecedented detail. Building on my training in physics and immunology, my research team has used these microscopes to study the changing arrangements of molecules in individual immune cells. Our hypothesis is that immune responses are regulated, in part, by miniscule, nanometre-scale, changes to the organisation of immune cell surfaces. Here, we will test how the surface organisation of specific white blood cells (called Natural Killer cells and macrophages) varies in health and disease, as well as in individuals with variations in immune system genes. We are studying how these changes impact thresholds at which immune responses are switched on or off. As well as understanding how immune cells work, we hope to uncover new ways in which medicines can nudge their activity up or down.