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What's new in November 2020

Engineered T cells can prevent the autoimmune reaction behind type 1 diabetes

Cells in the pancreas.
Harmful T cells of the immune system can attack insulin-producing cells in the pancreas and lead to type 1 diabetes. Researchers co-led by HSCI Affiliate Faculty member Thomas Serwold have engineered a specialized type of T cell that can target and eliminate the harmful ones.
  • What they did: The researchers mimicked natural T cell responses that are driven by a complex “5-module” group of molecules, designing T cells with these molecules to target harmful T cells.
  • What they found: In a mouse model of type 1 diabetes, the engineered T cells could find and eliminate the harmful type, preventing the development of diabetes.
  • Why it matters: In addition to type 1 diabetes, this approach could be used to treat other autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis; certain cancers; and immune rejection of transplanted tissues.

RNA “ticker tape” records gene activity over time

Illustration of RNA molecule.
As cells grow, divide, and respond to their environment, their gene expression changes — one gene may be transcribed into more RNA at one time point and less at another time when it’s no longer needed. In a recent study led by HSCI Principal Faculty member Fei Chen, researchers developed a way to track when specific RNA molecules are produced in cells.
  • What they did: The researchers added a string of repetitive adenosine molecules to the ends of RNA, then introduced an engineered enzyme that changed the molecules at a predictable rate. By comparing the ratio of the different molecules, the researchers could timestamp when the RNA was produced.
  • What they found: The researchers improved their timestamping accuracy by increasing the number of RNAs observed, reaching 86% accuracy when observing 200 RNA molecules at once.
  • Why it matters: Researchers can use this technology to study how cells evolve over time and how they change in response to a particular function — such as how levels of gene activity related to learning and memory change in the hours after a neuron fires.

HSCI scientists receive awards to advance research

HSCI scientists have received awards in recognition of their innovative research:
  • Executive Committee member Carla Kim is a recipient of the Lung Cancer Discovery Award from the American Lung Association. The award recognizes Kim’s innovative lung cancer research that has the potential to improve patient care and help save lives.
  • Faculty members Allon Klein, Jonathan Seidman, Christine Seidman, and Jayaraj Rajagopal have been awarded grants from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to expand the Human Cell Atlas — a global effort to map every cell in the human body — with a focus on making sure the atlas is fully representative of the global population.
  • Affiliate Faculty member Jose Ordovas-Montanes has received an early-career award from the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF). He has been named a NYSCF – Robertson Investigator, which recognizes cutting-edge research with the potential to accelerate treatments and cures.
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