Millions of people around the world are suffering with — and even dying from — diseases related to the immune system: autoimmune disease, chronic infections, and cancer, among others. Yet we still don’t have anywhere near a complete understanding of what makes a healthy immune system, let alone what goes wrong in that system in disease.
In the last decade, there have been some significant advances in diagnostics and treatments for immune-related diseases, but these advances are just the tip of a large iceberg.
At the Allen Institute for Immunology, we are taking a large-scale approach to understanding a diverse suite of cell types, their networks and the molecules that make up the healthy human immune system in both children and adults, all while studying the same foundational components of the immune system in disease states. We are also studying how the immune system changes over time in healthy individuals, in patients as their disease progresses, and in patients as they respond to treatment.
As the system constantly and dynamically responds to our environment and changes as we age, we will study the immune system with careful consideration to three age groups, detailed health status, gender, and seasonal variation. We will also examine immune response and its memory in our volunteers and patients with a medically warranted vaccine challenge. To accomplish this with urgency, we are bringing the Allen Institute’s expertise in large-scale, high-throughput bioscience to the study of the immune system coupled with other cutting-edge technologies specific to the immune system.
Healthy Immune System
We are taking a deep dive into the immune systems of healthy adult and children volunteers and following how their immune cells and molecules change over time. Despite decades of research in immunology, we still can’t specifically define, let alone understand, what “normal” immune health looks like — a baseline that’s essential to figuring out how to restore that health in patients with immune-related diseases.
There are hundreds of human diseases that are caused by immune imbalances, and millions of people around the world living with immune-related diseases. We hope our research could lead to benefits in many diseases, but to start, we are focusing on studies of five immune-related diseases: cancer, specifically multiple myeloma and melanoma, and the autoimmune diseases rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease, which includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. We chose these diseases for initial study to allow us to study disease transitions in detail, with the opportunity to look at both the blood based immune system and to examine the diseases’ microenvironments, the healthy cells and molecules that surround and interact with diseased cells, through specific tissue samples.