Lukas Jeker M.D., Ph.D.
Work in our lab aims at improving our understanding of the immune system with a particular focus on lymphocytes known as T cells that are highly potent mediators of immune responses. A better understanding of T cell differentiation and function should ultimately lead to novel therapeutic approaches to regulate the immune system.
The ultimate goal is to translate our basic research findings back to novel concepts and approaches that will benefit patients suffering from a variety of immune related diseases. We are particularly interested in the basic mechanisms underlying immune tolerance, i.e. the state when the immune system is ready to detect and fight intruders such as viruses but “tolerates” tissues of the host body. Breakdown of tolerance mechanisms leads to autoimmune diseases where the immune system fails to recognize its host body as “self” and instead mounts immune reactions against it. Such diseases include type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and many more. We are studying a particular T cell type specialized at regulating the immune system, hence coined “T regulatory cell”.
In addition we are deciphering genetic programs that are required for cellular identity. In several instances we have demonstrated that genetic alterations can lead to a loss of a clear identity associated with a gain or loss of functions normally seen in different T cell types.
In the past few years our lab has become fascinated by so called “non-coding RNAs”, i.e. RNA molecules whose primary purpose is not to act as an intermediary between the genome (DNA) and proteins. Rather, these RNA molecules have intrinsic functions such as the regulation of gene expression. We have demonstrated the dependence of several T cell subsets on a class of non-coding RNAs called microRNAs (due to their short size). Current research projects investigate how microRNAs regulate cellular identity and immune tolerance.