New center seeks therapies to boost body's immune system

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New center seeks therapies to boost body's immune system

Q &A: Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease director Michael Gale Jr. introduces work against a host of diseases Nov. 30
Bobbi Nodell

A new Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease at UW Medicine seeks to become a world leader in finding therapies to regulate the body’s defense system and fend off a wide variety of diseases. Among these are infectious illnesses like Ebola, influenza and dengue fever, autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus, and common, complex conditions, like cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The research center, which was formed over the past two years, will officially open for business in January. A seminar and reception to introduce the center will be held at 3:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 30, at UW Medicine South Lake Union, Building E, 850 Republican St., Seattle. 

Michael Gale Jr., University of Washington professor of immunology and director of the new center, will provide an overview at the event; his talk will stream live.

Dr. Gale sat down to answer a few question about the center’s goal to "harness the immune system," the second most complex system in the body next to the brain:

Q. What does it mean to harness the immune system?

A. Our bodies have an inborn ability to respond to infections. It doesn’t require pre-exposure. This response is called the innate immune response. Depending on how the innate response plays out, the rest of the immune response will follow – whether it’s going to activate a T-cell to attack a cancer cell or to turn against our own body, for example. The innate immune response shapes the overall immune response. Scientists didn’t know that five to eight years ago. We are studying innate immunity to the point we can harness these processes to enhance or control the immune response.

Q. Why Seattle?

A. Seattle is a hotbed for this kind of research. We now have a critical mass of expertise to support a center like this. UW Medicine has one of the highest-ranking immunology departments in the world. Great research institutions, such as Benaroya Research Institute, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Institute for Systems Biology, Center for Infectious Disease Research, and  Seattle Children’s Research Institute are all in walking distance.

These institutions, as well as several local biotech companies, have people working on being able to trigger an immune system response for various diseases, but there isn’t one center coordinating all the activity and providing the infrastructure. 

Immunology lab
Gale lab
Researchers working in an immunology lab at UW Medicine South Lake Union.
Immunology lab

Q. What will the Center for Innate Immunity and Immune Disease offer?

A. We will be the place coordinating different research efforts in innate immunity to push discoveries into human therapies.  With local biotech partners, scientists can quickly test and develop these new advances toward clinical applications.

We have already discovered drug targets and drug-like compounds of innate immune regulation. These research findings offer the promise to treat Ebola virus, influenza, and West Nile virus infections. The center will help bring forward similar discoveries in autoimmune disease, inflammatory disease and cancer.

Q. Who will be involved in the center?

A. The center will have scientists from different fields of expertise, such as infectious disease, rheumatology, computational biology, protein biology, pharmaceutics, vaccinology, genetics, and pathology, microbiology, immunology, and medicine, as well as industry partners. They will work with clinicians to bring understanding from diverse perspectives and with our biotech partners and others to evaluate whether a therapy is ready for preclinical and clinical development.

Q. What is one of the leading edge technologies used by the center?

A. The center will be designed around four service cores – cell signaling, transgenic mouse models, immunoinformatics, and translational research.  It will also have an educational outreach core.  All the cores are innovative, but probably the most cutting edge is the immunoinformatics core. It brings together a group of computational biologists who can process high throughput data sets and build computational models to help steer the research direction. [High throughput is the running of several  experimental test simultaneously.]

Q. What kind of outreach does the center do?

A. The education outreach core is looking at the next generation by bringing basic immunology teaching and lab exercises in immunology to local public school students. This core also runs a summer research internship in its members’ labs for high school students. 
Media contact:  Bobbi Nodell,, 206-543-7129.