DNA graphic

Joshua Ooi, PhD

Research Fellow
Monash University
Department of Medicine

Genetically Engineering Regulatory T Cells to Treat SLE

Clinical trials are testing whether increasing the number of regulatory T cells helps people with lupus. One treatment approach being explored involves giving patients large doses of these cells.  But Dr. Ooi and his lab colleagues believe that they can make more effective regulatory T cells that protect specific cells.

In lupus, harmful immune cells hone in on certain molecules and attack cells that carry them. One of the immune cells’ main targets is a portion of the cell nucleus referred to as the Smith antigen. Regulatory T cells that recognize the Smith antigen might be able to shut down these harmful immune cells. Their work will identify which parts of the Smith antigen that immune cells respond to. Once they know that, they will be able to genetically engineer regulatory T cells to protect cells carrying the Smith antigen in mice. If these cells reduce lupus symptoms in the animals, they plan to create regulatory T cells for treating patients with lupus.

What this study means for patients
Researchers are studying regulatory T cells – cells that keep our immune system under control — as a therapy for lupus. Dr. Ooi’s project aims to genetically engineer regulatory T cells that are better at shielding the body’s cells from immune system attack. After evaluating the cells in mice, he and his team hope to test them in people with the disease.

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