Andrew Mellor, Ph.D
firstname.lastname@example.org Immunotherapy Center Director and Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Immunogenetics
David Munn, M.D
Immunotherapy Center Associate Director and Professor of Pediatrics
The Immunotherapy Center is a center of research excellence at the Georgia Health Sciences University. Many diseases develop because the immune system is over-active, as in autoimmune diseases (e.g. type I diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus etc.), or under-active, as in cancer and chronic infectious diseases (e.g. HIV, Hepatitis, TB, Listeria, etc.). The primary role of the immune system is to eliminate microbial infections that cause pathogenic disease. To perform this key function immune cells must recognize and respond to ‘foreign’ molecules (antigens) expressed by invading pathogens leading to the destruction of pathogens and of cells they infect. The ability of immune cells to recognize a huge range of different antigens explains why organs transplanted between individuals are rejected unless immunosuppressive drugs are given to patients to suppress transplant rejection. Autoimmune diseases arise because the immune system is not regulated properly and immune cells start to destroy healthy cells and tissues such as cells that make insulin, leading to type 1 diabetes. Likewise, over-active immune cells contribute to inflammatory processes that lead to cardiovascular disease over time. In contrast, diseases like cancer and chronic infections arise, in part, because the immune system is abnormally suppressed, leading to a state of specific tolerance, which allows tumors to grow and infections to persist in people with otherwise effective immune systems. The mission of the GHSU Immunotherapy Center is to discover fundamental molecular mechanisms and cellular processes that control the immune system and to translate this new knowledge into innovative approaches to prevent and treat clinical disease. To achieve this goal, scientists using cell and animal model systems are working with clinical investigators and clinical faculty to increase understanding of immune system function and to apply this knowledge to treat disease in the clinic. In recognition of the critical role of the immune system in cancer etiology, the Immunotherapy Center relocated to the new Cancer Research Center in 2006, which is equipped with new research facilities to support basic and clinical research, including new facilities essential to promote studies on patient materials for pre-clinical research and experimental clinical trials.
Research at the Immunotherapy Center is focused on fundamental mechanisms that regulate immune system activity, which help to prevent autoimmune diseases, but allow tumors and chronic infections to persist. Research goals are to discover how to manipulate these mechanisms to stimulate the immune system to attack tumors and infected cells, and to prevent the immune system destroying healthy cells and transplanted organs and tissues. The Center Director, Andrew Mellor Ph.D. and Associate Director, David Munn M.D., lead research groups studying how cells expressing indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase (IDO) suppress immune responses, a mechanism first discovered at GHSU in 1998. Drs. Mellor and Munn continue to describe new insights into this mechanism that provide novel opportunities to treat patients. With the support of the National Cancer Institute (NIH) and a corporate partner, experimental clinical trials to test if pharmacologic inhibition of IDO will improve treatments for cancer and chronic infections are now in progress. Plans to perform follow-on trials on patients attending GHSU Cancer Clinics are also well advanced. Pandelakis Koni Ph.D. leads a research group studying regulatory T cells that inhibit immune responses mediated by other T cells. Through fundamental studies, these investigators are discovering new ways to manipulate T cells to improve disease outcomes in the clinic. Michiko Shimoda Ph.D. is studying the role of B cells in autoimmune disease and protective memory following vaccination. Tracy McGaha Ph.D research interests are primarily focused on systemic autoimmune disease development and mechanisms of inflammatory pathology manifestation/progression to end stage target organ failure. Theodore Johnson M.D., Ph.D is interested in how tumors evade natural immunity during neoplasia. To this end, his group is focusing on cells in tumor lesions that promote immune counter-regulations. Santhakumar Manicassamy, Ph.D. is examining critical mechanisms that regulate adoptive immune responses at the mucoscal surfaces of the gastro-intestinal track. New insights from Dr. Manicassamy’s research will shed light on interactions between commensal micro-organisms and how these interactions can become dys-functional to cause increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease and colon cancers.
The GHSU Immunotherapy Center is lead by Drs. Mellor and Munn who founded the Center in 2002. As the Director of the Immunotherapy Center, Dr. Mellor reports to the Dean of the School of Medicine and is responsible for overall development of research programs and administration. In addition to his basic research activities, Dr. Munn is responsible for developing clinical research programs in cancer and leads the GHSU Cancer Center Program in Cancer Immunotherapy. The Immunotherapy Center Business Manager is Ms. Phyllis McKie, Administrative Assistant is Ms. Tracy West and the Office Specialist is Ms. Natasha Alford.