Our immune system helps us stay healthy even though we are constantly exposed to harmful bacteria and viruses. This system is a network of white blood cells and proteins that constantly surveys our body and, on encountering signs of attack, will start to eliminate the infection. This decision to act must be made with care; a weak response may lead to uncontrolled disease, but over-activity could cause an unwanted response to our own cells, as in auto-immune diseases like arthritis or multiple sclerosis.
My research focuses on how T cells, a white blood cell type, make these decisions to initiate an immune response. The signalling network inside these cells is very complex, so it has been difficult to understand how they function at the level of the individual molecules involved. To overcome this problem, I have created a “model” T cell that is capable of replicating the early decision-making process but is much simpler to experiment with. This research will lead to a better understanding of how our immune system can discriminate between infected and healthy cells. This is essential to create improved therapeutic means to control our immune system when it does not work effectively to protect us.