Grant will advance research of infection-fighting blood cells

May 16, 2002

INDIANAPOLIS - Scientists at the Indiana University School of Medicine have been awarded a $5 million grant that will enable them to probe the function of a blood-cell protein that bolsters the body's immune system yet is also thought to lead to certain diseases.

The National Institutes of Health awarded the five-year grant to investigators at the school's Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research. It will enable them to study blood cell development and function. Their work centers on the role of Rac2, a protein found to be important in the function of phagocytic blood cells - special cells that produce agents that kill microbes - such as macrophages and granulocytes.

Macrophages are specialized cells that engulf and destroy large particles such as bacteria, yeast and dying cells, and help rebuild damaged tissue. Granulocytes are white blood cells that provide the body's defense against disease.

"These cells are important components of the immune system and are necessary to fight microbial infections, but they also can damage normal tissue," says David G. Skalnik, Ph.D., principal investigator and professor of pediatrics and biochemistry and molecular biology at the IU School of Medicine.

"We are interested in studying the phagocytic substances because have been implicated in causing some human diseases such as heart attacks, stroke, atherosclerosis and arthritis," Dr. Skalnik adds.

Other program investigators are Mary Dinauer, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and medical and molecular genetics and director of the Wells Center; Wade Clapp, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics and microbiology and immunology; Lawrence Quilliam, associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology; Simon Atkinson, M.D., associate professor of biochemistry and molecular biology and David Williams, M.D., a former Wells director who now is associated with the University of Cincinnati.

A rather special breed of mice will aid Dr. Skalnik and his colleagues in their research. The mice, developed by Drs. Dinauer and Williams at the IU School of Medicine, lack a functional Rac2 gene and exhibit immune system defects.

"Although our research program is focused on basic science, the long-term results of our studies could provide novel approaches to control phagocyte function and thus control disease," Dr. Skalnik says.
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Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research

Indiana University

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