New Clues to Autoimmune Skin Diseases

Principal Investigator Dan Campbell, PhD, and his team recently identified a new population of immune cells in the blood that closely resembles immune cells in the skin. They accomplished this by using BRI’s combination of expertise, leading-edge techniques and the latest equipment.
 

Dr. Campbell explains the significance of this work. “The immune system must protect us from infection and cancer while not harming healthy tissues,” he says. “To do this, the immune system has to monitor the health and function of every tissue in the body. While we can easily isolate immune cells from the blood, these tissue immune cells are difficult to isolate and study. As a result their functions are still poorly understood.

Dan Campbell, PhD, and colleagues identified new immune cells in the blood that closely resemble those in the skin.
Dan Campbell, PhD, and colleagues identified new immune cells in the blood that closely resemble those in the skin.

Using comprehensive profiling of cells, high-speed sorting of cells to isolate specific types of immune cells, and gene-sequencing that profiles activity of all 20,000 genes in these cells, Dr. Campbell discovered immune cells in the blood that are closely related to those in skin tissue.

Preventing Rheumatoid Arthritis

The new single-cell analysis is being used in other studies and with a number of different diseases. Benaroya Research Institute recently brought the technology to a collaboration with the University of Colorado, Denver; University of California, San Diego; and Stanford University. In the study called TIP-RA (Targeting Immune Responses for the Prevention of Rheumatoid Arthritis) scientists are looking for ways to prevent rheumatoid arthritis (RA) from occurring in people with a high risk of the disease.
 

“We now have the capacity to take a small amount of human blood and look in-depth at specific T cells targeting the joints in RA, so we can understand what makes them become harmful and attack the body,” says BRI President Jane Buckner, MD, co-principal investigator of the study. “We think these are the cells that cause RA. Now we can make incredibly rapid progress with our biorepository blood samples from our generous volunteers. Once we understand what starts RA, then we can develop approaches to stop it before it takes hold.”

With the help of volunteer research participants, BRI President Jane Buckner, MD, collaborates with other institutions to study how to prevent immune cells from causing rheumatoid arthritis.
With the help of volunteer research participants, BRI President Jane Buckner, MD, collaborates with other institutions to study how to prevent immune cells from causing rheumatoid arthritis.

“These techniques allow us, for the first time, to isolate and study these cells in unprecedented detail,” he says. “This led us to a surprising finding: these cells may play a vital role not only in protecting us from infection, but also in helping repair damaged tissue. This raises the possibility, and hope, that we can harness these cells for treatment of chronic wounds and autoimmune skin diseases such as scleroderma, psoriasis and atopic dermatitis.”