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Personal profile

Biography

After receiving my BSc in Biochemistry from the University of Bristol, I moved to the University of Edinburgh to undertake a Wellcome Trust funded PhD. Performing these studies in the laboratory of Prof. Stephen Anderton, I became interested in understanding how T cells perceive and respond to their environment and differentiate accordingly. After completing my PhD in 2009 I moved to National Institutes of Health in the USA to undertake my post-doctoral work in the laboratory of Dr. Wanjun Chen in the National Institutes of Dental and Craniofacial Research. It was here that I developed my interest in mucosal immunology and the important mucosal cytokine TGFβ, exploring the development of both conventional T cells and, less well-studied, unconventional T cells residing at barrier sites. These studies led me to begin to start my own group examining the immune cell networks present at barrier sites, with a particular emphasis on the oral mucosa, and how the unique and conventional immune cells present at barrier sites perceive and are locally conditioned by the tissue microenvironment. Recently I was award a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship to support my ongoing studies.

Research interests

Mucosal barrier sites pose a particular challenge for the immune system. These barriers, such as the Gastrointestinal (GI) tract and Oral mucosa, are sites of frequent pathogen invasion but also home to diverse commensal microbial communities. As such, the immune system must be carefully tailored to the tissue microenvironment to limit aberrant responses to commensals while allowing for rapid development of an immune response to protect against the invader. Failure to achieve this has pathological consequences such as the development of inflammatory bowel diseases (Gastrointestinal tract) and Periodontitis (Oral mucosa). Consequently, specialized immune cell networks have developed to help mediate effective immunological control of these dynamic barrier environments.

My research programme focuses on understanding how the immune system is tailored to these unique barrier surfaces. Indeed, to mediate immune homeostasis at the barrier sites of GI tract and oral mucosa, conventional and unconventional immune cells are present which are conditioned by the microenvironment. My recent work has examined the development and differentiation of T cells at barrier sites, understanding how barrier-specific cues, in particular the cytokine TGFβ, educates T cells about their environment and drives them to adopt certain phenotypic and functional characteristics.

In my ongoing work I am further exploring the immune cell networks present at barrier sites, with a particular focus on the oral mucosa. Indeed, in a collaborative study, myself and others, have highlighted the key role of immune dysfunction in the development of Periodontitis, emphasizing the strict controls placed on immune cell functioning at the oral barrier. However, a clear picture of the immune homeostatic mechanisms at play at the oral barrier is yet to elucidated.

To address this I am undertaking parallel studies in both human and mouse that will allow for an in-depth investigation of this often overlooked mucosal site. I aim to mechanistically understand the signals that are required to establish the immunological network present at the oral barrier and how alterations in this network contribute to immune dysregulation and pathological inflammation in the oral cavity. In addition I am also exploring the influence of immune cell functioning at the oral barrier on immunity at distal sites, in particular the gastrointestinal tract, and identifying the meditators of this cross-talk. Collectively, understanding the mechanisms behind immune specialization at barrier sites will not only allow for a better understanding of barrier immunity in human health and disease, but could also lead to the identification of targets for the rational development of novel therapeutics.

My group

Dr Siddharth Krishnan (Post Doctoral Researcher)

Flora McClure (PhD Student)

Hayley Bridgeman (Technician)

 

My collaborations

Collaborators:

Dr John Grainger - University of Manchester (https://www.research.manchester.ac.uk/portal/john.grainger-2.html)

Dr Niki Moutsopoulos - NIDCR, NIH, USA

Prof Dawn Bowdish - McMaster University, Canada

Prof Dietmar Zaiss - University of Edinburgh

 

Prizes and awards

Lister Prize Fellow (2019)

Job vacancies

We are always looking for motivated scientists to join our group so please get in touch if you would like to join our team (joanne.konkel@manchester.ac.uk)

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being

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