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Professor Michael Dustin, Director of Research at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology has been awarded two major grants this week, one from the European Research Council (ERC) and the other from the Human Frontier Science Program.

Professor Dustin's research at the Kennedy focuses on immunological synapse (IS), a term he first coined to describe the embrace between T cells and B cells that is necessary to mount an immune response.

ERC ADVANCED GRANT

Understanding the immunological synapse is important for innovation in healthcare and the €2.2M Advanced Grant from the ERC will allow Professor Dustin's group at the Kennedy Institute to address fundamental gaps in our understanding of this process.

The five-year project due to start this November aims to reveal the composition of particular structures related to immunological synapses, defined as synaptic ectosomes, as well as identify ways to manipulate their formation.

"These structures add a new dimension to studies on the immunological synapse" says Professor Dustin. "We are very excited to have this opportunity to understand this new phenomenon; we hope to harness what we learn to improve vaccines and immunotherapy."

HUMAN FRONTIER SCIENCE PROGRAM

Professor Dustin is part of an international team of experts who will be investigating the formation of antibodies, key agents in the body's response to pathogens.

Coordinated by Prof Michael Meyer-Hermann, a systems biologist of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig, Germany, the €1.2 million project is funded by the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP).

Results from the three-year research project will form the foundation for specific interventions into the immune response to infections.

Professor Dustin says: "This is a very exciting opportunity to combine mathematical models and experiments while overcoming barriers to international collaboration."

The research program will focus on the information processing in the germinal centres, highly organized tissues that are generated by infections and vaccines to protect us, but also may produce self-destructive antibodies in autoimmune diseases.

The research team will develop methods to study and manipulate human germinal centres in unprecedented detail using powerful imaging methods. Previous studies have used experiments in mice, as methods to study human germinal centres were not previously available. This approach will overcome limitations of traditional mouse models to study germinal centers, particularly divergence of important regulatory mechanisms between mouse and man.

Professor Meyer-Hermann and Professor Dustin are joined by Dr Gabriel Victora of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Sciences, Cambridge, USA, and Prof Carola Vinuesa of the Australian National University in Canberra.

The Human Frontier Science Program only funds teams from different continents and is aimed specifically at establishing international cooperation.

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