Their work also is credited with reawakening researchers' interest in central (thymic) tolerance, the mechanism by which newly developed T cells learn to tolerate the animal's own cells and tissues ("self") and distinguish them from foreign invaders ("non-self"). Their studies on the AIRE protein and its control of toleranceand its role in autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetesis one of their critical contributions. Having uncovered the role of AIRE and the thymus in the normal development of tolerance to the pancreas and other organs, researchers now hope to learn why T cells fail to develop tolerance to beta cells in type 1 diabetes and how this failure can be reversed.
In more recent work, Drs. Benoist and Mathis have teamed with colleagues at Harvard to develop a non-invasive method to image in real-time the development of type 1 diabetes in the pancreas, by following the infiltration of the pancreas by macrophages. The technique is being explored both as a diagnostic aid and as a therapeutic biomarker to gauge the effectiveness of therapies designed to slow the attack.
Drs. Benoist and Mathis have also pioneered the study of "immunometabolism," an emerging field that explores connections between the immune system and metabolism. Interest in the field is fueled in part by the increasing rates of obesity and the role of obesity in inducing inflammation, type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases. They identified a microbe, segmented filamentous bacteria, which can block the development of diabetes in a mouse model. They have found that intestinal microbes may also play a role.
Drs. Benoist and Mathis are both faculty of the Department of Microbiology and Immuno
|Contact: Karin Eskenazi|
Columbia University Medical Center