Immunology and Infectious Diseases

Prof. Dr. med. Daniela Finke about her research on the immune system
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During evolution an immune system has been generated for protection against life-threatening infections. However, the high versatility and complexity of the immunesystem also harbors the danger of developing various diseases like immunodeficiency’s and autoimmune diseases. These diseases most often arise as a consequence of defects in the development of the immune system and/or as a consequence of aberrant immune reactions.

The Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases of the Department of Biomedicine currently comprises 27 research groups of which about half of the groups concentrate their researchon more translational questions whereas the other half is tackling more basic questions. Recently the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases founded the University of Basel Immunology Community group (uBICO) with the goal to further strengthen the interactions between the immunology related research groups within Basel and to improve the training of PhD students of the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Currently members of uBICO are in charge of organizing the weekly immunomeetings, the annual retreatof the research groups within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases, the PhD-club in which PhD students of the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases discuss their projects and the invitation of 3–4 distinguished guest speakers per year.

Of the more translational research groups within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases, 6 concentrate their studies on a better understanding of the pathogenesis of various autoimmunediseases which include, SLE, Arthritis, Diabetes and MS. One group is studying primary immunodeficiencies and especially the link to the developmentof autoimmunity.

Viruses constitute a life-threatening challenge especially in individuals with primary or secondary immunodeficiencies. Four research groups within the Department focus their efforts on the immune system’s early recognition of viral infection and ways by which an anti-viral response can be enhanced. Also fungal infections can have devastating effects especially in immuno compromised individuals. The factors that determine the risk of getting such an infection and the potential therapy of these patients is the research focus of one group within the Department.

For a long time it is known that vaccination is the method of choice to prevent infectious diseases. However, it has been recognized that not all individuals are able to mount a protective immuneresponse upon vaccination. One group within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases is using a systems biology approach in order to improve vaccination strategies.

Several groups within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases concentrate their research on various aspects of the development of the immune system. Dendritic cell subpopulations are key players in the initiation of various immune responses. One group is concentrating on the development of the different dendritic cell subsets with special emphasis on the role of transcription factors in these processes. Yet another group is focusing its research on the molecular mechanisms that guide lymphocyte development. The instructive and/or the permissive roles of cytokines and the involvement of various transcription factors in these developmental processes are the main research focuses of this group.

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are T cells that can inhibit the function of other T cells and therefore are thought to be effective in the treatment of various diseases and could prevent organ rejection upon transplantation. Two groups within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases study the development of Tregs and also address their potential therapeutic usage in different experimental models.

The thymus is the organ in which T cell development and education takes place. The thymus as an organ is rather complex and contains various epithelial subsets that play a crucial role in T cell development and education. One group of the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases is studying the development of these different epithelial subsets and the consequences of impairment in these developmental processes on the emerging T cell repertoires.

Innate lymphocytes (ILC’s) show many similarities to T cells including the production of certain cytokines and the requirement of certain transcription factors for their development. However, unlike lymphocytes these cells do not express an antigen specific receptor. Over the years it has been well established that these ILC’s play a crucial role in the proper functioning of the immune system. The requirement for one of these in lymph node organogenesis is perfect example of this. The research of one of the groups in the Department is focused on the development and functions of these ILC’s.

T cells in our body play a crucial role in the protection against a wide range of pathogens. However, their differentiation and activation into the various effector functions is not yet fully understood. One group within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases is using continuous time-lapse imaging combined with flow cytometry and gene expression profiling to address T cell activation in great detail.

In the last years it has been recognized that metabolic pathways play a crucial role in T cell function and longevity and that impairments in these pathways can underlie the development of various diseases. Up to now the signaling pathways that regulate the metabolic status in T cells are only poorly defined. The research focus of one of the groups within the Research Area Immunology and Infectious Diseases is the unraveling of these signaling pathways with the major goal to identify new therapeutic strategies for patients with impairments in these.

Classical T cells recognize with their α/β TCR peptides bound to polymorphic MHC class I or class II molecules. However, over the years it became evident that a very significant number of non-classical T cells are also present in our body. These T cells recognize non-peptide antigens like lipids, glycolipids and small metabolites of microbial origin bound to MHC related molecules like CD1 and MR1. Two groups within the Department are studying the characteristics of these T cellin great detail and also address their potential role in diseases including infections. Taken together a wide variety of basic translational immunological research activities are ongoing in the Department. Moreover a network of laboratory based research with strong links to clinical medicine and other institutes of the University of Basel has been established.

Research Groups Immunology and Infectious Diseases

Berger Christoph, PD Dr. med.Translational Immunology 
Bernsmeier Christine Prof. Dr.Translational Hepatology
Binder Mascha, Prof. Dr. med.Translational Immuno-Oncology
Boeck Lucas, Dr.Pulmonary Infection Biology
Cavelti-Weder Claudia, PD Dr. med.Translational Diabetes
De Libero Gennaro, Prof. Dr. med.Experimental Immunology
Derfuss Tobias, Prof. Dr. med.Clinical Neuroimmunology
Donath Marc, Prof. Dr. med.Diabetes Research
Filipowicz Sinnreich Magdalena, PD Dr.Liver Immunology
Finke Daniela, Prof. Dr.Developmental Immunology
Hartmann Karin, Prof. Dr. med.Allergy and Immunity
Heim Markus, Prof. Dr. med.Hepatology
Hess Christoph, Prof. Dr. med.Immunobiology
Hirsch Hans H., Prof. Dr. med.Transplantation and Clinical Virology
Holländer Georg, Prof. Dr.Pediatric Immunology
Hutter Gregor, Prof. Dr. medBrain Tumor Immunotherapy and Biology
Jeker Lukas, Prof. Dr.Molecular Immune Regulation
Khanna Gremmelmaier Nina, Prof. Dr. med.Infection Biology
King Carolyn, Prof. Dr.Infection Immunology
Kuhle Jens, Prof. Dr. med.Clinical Neuroimmunology
Kyburz Diego, Prof. Dr. med.Experimental Rheumatology
Läubli Heinz, Prof. Dr. med.Cancer Immunotherapy
Mehling Matthias, PD Dr. med.Translational Neuroimmunology
Niess Jan, Prof. Dr. med.Gastroenterology
Pinschewer Daniel, Prof. Dr. med.Experimental Virology
Pröbstel Anne-Katrin, Prof. Dr. med.Experimental Neuroimmunology
Recher Mike, Prof. Dr. med.Immunodeficiency
Schaeren-Wiemers Nicole, Prof. Dr.Neurobiology
Timper Katharina, Prof. Dr. med.Obesity Research
Trendelenburg Marten, Prof. Dr. med.Clinical Immunology
Zippelius Alfred, Prof. Dr. med.Cancer Immunology