Flies To Better Understand the Immune System

Studying flies, Lebanese scientist, Laure El Chamy, aims to learn more about the human immune system, and more precisely, how it reacts to diseases.

Innate immunity is, in evolutionary terms, the oldest form of host defence and is found in the vast majority of living organisms. Laure El Chamy’s research aims to shed light on one of the mechanisms of innate immunity in the hope of exploiting its potential in disease therapy.

In the innate immune system, small proteins circulate in the blood as inactive precursors. When stimulated by recognition of pathogenic or damaged cells, these proteins release chemical messengers, initiating a cascade of gene activation, known as NF-kB signalling, which results in a massive immune response and pathogenic cell destruction. The advantage of this system is the rapidity of its response, but as NF-kB signalling controls many genes involved in inflammation and cell proliferation, over-stimulation can result in cancer and chronic inflammatory disease.

Using the Drosophila fruit fly as a model organism, researchers in Laure’s Nobel Prize-winning host laboratory in Strasbourg have previously identified several candidate genes involved in either promoting or inhibiting the NF-kB pathway. Laure has chosen to study four of these to evaluate their precise role in the signalling cascade.

She will initially work with transgenic Drosophila flies to establish the effect on phenotype of suppressing each gene. She will then try to identify their operating position in the signalling cascade by investigating the intersections of different gene functions via a series of experiments combining double mutations. Fluorescent microscopy will help her to locate the gene products in Drosophila cells and tissues to better understand their function and molecular interactions. In parallel, she will compare the occurrence of each gene in animals from different branches of the evolutionary tree to establish how far they have been conserved through evolution.By understanding the function of genes involved in the NF-kB signalling cascade, Laure hopes that she can identify candidate targets for the development of new therapies to modulate NF-kB signalling in inflammatory diseases. On return to Lebanon, she plans to continue investigating fundamental research questions in her own Drosophila genetics laboratory using the technical and genetic expertise acquired in Strasbourg.

For Women in Science

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