The immune system plays a central role in the progression and control of many diseases, in particular those caused by pathogenic bacteria, parasites, and viruses. The immune system can prevent or limit infection and can help to replace dysfunctional or damaged tissue. However it can also work in ways that do not benefit the individual; for example in the case of transplant rejection or auto-immune diseases.
The LUMC has a longstanding tradition performing research into the role of the immune system in infectious diseases and transplantation as well as auto-immune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. Notably,in the 1950's Professor Jon van Rood discovered the key role of Human Leukocyte Antigen system (HLA) in the immune response, thus revealing the crossroad between the HLA system and transplantation.
Focus on three major themes
Emerging and opportunistic infections
The research in this theme focuses on the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases. By unravelling the biology and evolution of pathogens and pathogen-host interactions, we aim to better understand the pathogenesis and epidemiology of infections caused by bacteria, viruses and parasites. This will aid to develop improved strategies to detect and combat such infectious diseases, in patients with either normal or disturbed immunity (like transplant recipients) and – in the case of emerging infections – potentially on a global scale.
Auto-immunity and chronic inflammation
Research within this theme includes investigations into how chronic inflammation develops and what sometimes causes the immune system to attack the body. Specific examples include rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, or aplastic anemia and an inappropriate or exaggerated immune response to allergens in the air, as is the case with asthma. Research within this theme tries to unravel how the immune system learns to react against or tolerate what it perceives as foreign, and how we can best steer the immune response in the right direction when it malfunctions.
Immunotherapy and vaccination
Research within this theme includes the development of vaccines against infectious diseases, including malaria, helminths, tuberculosis, and emerging viruses. Researchers also aim to uncover the reasons why some people often suffer infections – while others are rarely affected – and to develop strategies to strengthen the immune system by modulating their sensitivity to infection. In addition, studies are being performed on how the immune system can be manipulated and immune cell therapies can be developed to help patients with damaged immune cells or tissues. In this regard the Center for Microbiome Analysis and Therapeutics and the Leiden Controlled Human Infection Center, are recent investments by the LUMC to support innovative approaches for immunotherapy and vaccination.
These three themes are aligned with the LUMC strategic plan (2018-2023) that aims to improve the health of the patient at the LUMC and its regional healthcare partners as well as the population in our region and beyond.
Dutch science agenda
The medical research profile Immunity, Infection and Tolerance participates in the Nationale Wetenschapsagenda (in Dutch).
The LUMC research groups have excellent facilities and perform state-of-the-art science, all aimed at translating research findings into novel or improved therapies. The immunomonitoring platform includes a mass cytometer and imaging mass cytometer, which are generating information on the immune system in an unprecedented detail. IIT researchers also have access to high-containment facilities, the unique facilities of the Research Profile Biomedical Imaging, and of the state-of-the-art facilities within the LUMC Technology Focus Areas Leiden Genome Technology Centerand Center for Proteomics and Metabolomics for (high-throughput) genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics and metabolomics analyses.