UTSW Working to Reprogram Cells to Strengthen Immunity in Geriatric Patients

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12/23/2021

Photo: UT Southwestern Medical Center

UTSouthWestern.edu

What if the key to aging well lies in reprogramming immune system cells to strengthen them against infections and cancer? Researchers at UT Southwestern are working to find out.

Tuoqi Wu, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology and in the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, studies aging in immune cells. His groundbreaking work at UT Southwestern was recently recognized with a grant from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and the American Federation for Aging Research, part of a $2.26 million mulifaceted grant program in support of biomedical research on aging.

Dr. Wu will investigate potential opportunities to improve immunity using strategies to reverse age-driven decline in CD8 T cell immunity. “The results from this study could help develop novel interventions to improve immune surveillance against infections and cancer, diseases associated with increased frequency in the elderly,” Dr. Wu said.  

CD8 T cells are a type of white blood cells and are essential for the immune system to fight infections. As people age, these cells become less effective in controlling infections, and the risk of infection-related hospitalizations, deaths, and cancer increases. In addition, vaccines are less protective in the elderly because they work by activating the immune system.

The UT Southwestern scientists recently discovered a type of CD8 T cells, termed stem cell-like CD8 T cells, which have longer lifespans and are more effective in combating infections and cancer. In this study, they will evaluate strategies to reverse age-driven decline in CD8 T cell immunity by reprograming the aged CD8 T cells into stem cell-like CD8 T cells. 

UT Southwestern is ranked as one of the nation’s top 25 hospitals for both cancer and geriatric care.

UT Southwestern’s Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas, includes five research and 12 clinical care programs with a focus on fostering groundbreaking translational research that can improve patient treatment, address cancer health disparities, and prevent cancer worldwide. In addition, the Center’s education and training programs support and develop the next generation of cancer researchers and clinicians. The comprehensive designation and associated funding is designed to bolster the cancer center’s research and to provide patients access to innovative clinical trials with promising new drugs. Simmons Cancer Center members currently have over $90 million in extramural cancer-focused research funding.

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