By Tami Coursey, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Fellow in the DNA Tumor Virus Section of the Laboratory of Viral Diseases
The NIH/FDA Cytokine Interest Group (CIG) met for a mini-symposium on June 10, 2021, to honor the memory of immunology research giant William E. Paul, M.D. The NIH/FDA CIG brings together scientists studying cytokine-directed mediation of immune processes. “Personally, I am honored to work for the CIG steering committee and to promote top notch science done at NIAID and other institutes,” mentioned co-host and NIAID postdoctoral fellow, Maja Buszko, Ph.D. Two NIAID scientists were selected as the winners of the 2020 William E. Paul Award for the best papers in cytokine research: Sang Hun Lee (3rd place, ex aequo), a staff scientist in the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, and Lindsey B. Rosen (1st place), a predoctoral fellow in the Laboratory of Clinical Immunology & Microbiology. “I’m still using [Dr. Paul’s] reporter animals, which is such a valuable resource for my experiments. This is how great scientists are remembered,” mentioned Lee at the beginning of his talk. Lee’s presentation covered a recently uncovered mechanism by which cutaneous parasites persistently infect dermal tissue resident macrophages (TRMs). His research revealed a feedback loop between dermal TRMs and surrounding cells that maintains TRMs in a state favorable for parasite replication.
The award winners’ talks spanned topics covering activation of sensory neurons and wound itching by dendritic cell invasion and cytokine production (Junji Xu, NIDCR, 3rd ex aequo), cytokine-regulated negative feedback loops inhibiting dysregulated cytokine-induced pathogenicity (Wai Po Chong, NEI, 2nd ex aequo), and cytokine-stimulated release of serotonin from intestinal cells to promote homeostasis (Zuojia Chen, NCI, 2nd ex aequo).
Last to speak was NIAID graduate student Lindsey Rosen, who presented on autoantibodies detected in patients with life-threatening COVID-19 pneumonia— a relevant topic during the current global pandemic. These autoantibodies target type 1 interferons, primarily interferon alpha-2 and omega, thereby blocking antiviral activity against SARS-CoV-2 and contributing to the critical condition in COVID-19 patients. While the level of autoantibodies drop over time in most COVID-19 patients, early identification could inform potential therapeutic options. Treatment with interferon beta may be helpful for treating patients with autoantibodies, but early administration is thought to be necessary to clear the infection. “Winning this award provided me with the opportunity to share my research with a broader audience within the NIH/FDA community,” said Rosen, “It was truly an honor!”