What does your lab study?
We focus on the role of immune cells in tissue remodeling and repair in the context of injury, infection, and cancer. We know the immune system is extremely important to defend against infection by recognizing and eliminating pathogens. However, the immune system does so many other amazing things and my lab is interested in understanding some of these lesser-known functions of immune cells. We study how the body responds to infection, including both activating and dampening the inflammatory response, and how the immune system mediates repair after infection. In particular, I study a type of immune cell known as the macrophage. We want to learn more about how macrophages function in both their normal steady state and during disease.
What drew you to this work?
My PhD and post-graduate work focused on bringing the fields of cancer, tissue biology, and immunology together. I’m an immunologist by training but working in the amazing environment of this department allows me to now straddle the fields of regenerative biology and immunology, particularly to explore the role of macrophages in tissue regeneration and repair with the goal of targeting these cells to promote human health.
Why are you so interested in the immune system?
The immune system has been known for a long time to be critical in fighting infection, but I feel that in the last decade or two, it has become more appreciated as underlying all physiological processes. It is an exciting time for immunological research because we are finding that different types of immune cells have important functions that have never been described before.
Now, we have some new tools that can help us understand the functions of these cells in more detail as the immune system is a player in every single disease. A deeper understanding gives us more opportunities to manipulate immune cells therapeutically. It’s a really great time to be an immunologist when we can think about the immune system in new ways.
Tell us about the course you teach.
I teach upper-level undergraduates about the immune system in a course called Demystifying the Immune System. The course is aimed at helping students understand the immune system’s complex principles and its broader relevance, appreciating that immune cells also have some unexpected roles.
An important aspect of the course is our focus on science communication. Throughout the course, we discuss and learn strategies to effectively communicate complex scientific concepts to a general audience. The course culminates in a final project where students create their own original scientific pieces, tailored to various audiences and outlets. It is fun to see the creativity of the students! The projects range from original songs and videos to board games and storybooks.
The COVID-19 pandemic clearly showed that understanding the immune system is relevant to the public. Since I started at Harvard during the early days of the pandemic, I wanted to be sure that students in the class not only understood basic concepts about the immune system, like how a vaccine works, but could also explain them to their family members, friends, and neighbors