Examples of Immunological diseases // Drug Repurposing

Examples of Immunological diseases

Cell culturesMy name is Isra Shabir, and I’m a current sophomore at MIT. I’m spending my IAP in New York City at Columbia University’s Medical Center, immersing myself in the specific aspect of biology and clinical research known as immunology. Heard of type I diabetes? Familiar with what causes it? The answer, which I shall explain in a bit, is surprising and unknown to most people.

On my first day at the Medical Center, I was slightly nervous but excited at the same time to be walking among so many world-class doctors and researchers. Luckily, I wasn’t alone. Judy Deng ’14 also happened to be externing with me, and we were both ecstatic to do this program. Our mentor, Dr. Leonard Chess ’64, has served as a medical researcher and division head of rheumatology at Columbia for 26 years. Incredible? Yes. What’s more, he’s the most amiable professor-like figure I have ever worked with. Soon after we all met up at the highly secured gates, Dr. Chess gave us a tour of the Medical Center and spent some time talking about its history. Later, we settled at his office and exchanged fun facts about each other’s lives. Professor Chess also made it clear to us that in the next one month, we were to learn a lot, but of course, in a fun way. He then let us off with some lunch money—sweet, right?

Lunch with Dr. Chess. From left: Isra Shabir '14, Leonard Chess '64, Judy Deng '14So what goes on at the Chess Lab? Dr. Chess and his team are working on finding a clinical cure to autoimmune diseases. These diseases are initiated when our body’s immune mechanism begins to attack and destroy self-cells as opposed to just attacking foreign matter. Type I diabetes is an example of an autoimmune disease. It’s caused when the pancreas is attacked and can no longer produce insulin for the maintenance of blood glucose level. Dr. Chess’s lab has been testing various mechanisms to fight autoimmunity causing type I diabetes in mice. Remarkably, there has been immense success in this research. And now, their focus is to make advancements in clinical research in order to treat the disease in humans.

That’s some background information on what the lab does. Judy and I have been spending our time studying immunological concepts and, in detail, autoimmune diseases. Every day, we go over a different topic with Dr. Chess and discuss it. Later in the day, we are allowed into the lab to shadow some of the ongoing research procedures as well as assist the researchers. For example, we started off culturing cells and counting them upon growth. On the left is a picture of what Judy and I called our “baby” cells (after all, we fed them and took care of them).


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