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Exploring the impact of female (and male) biology on normal and pathological immune responses to infection and other immune triggers
It’s Time to Address a Knowledge Gap
The “Man Flu” — is it real? Science says, “probably so.” See this recent Harvard Health Blog for more. Are women evolutionarily hard-wired—by XX status alone or by circulating estrogen/progesterone—to plow through infections and have them drag out? Why do women suffer more from autoimmune diseases, migraines, and chronic inflammatory diseases? Do women really have different responses to vaccination — and should we then tailor vaccines to better suit men and women’s needs?
One goal of this discussion group is to address the knowledge gap, and raise awareness about important differences. We seek to define the problems that need attention – then mobilize the entire research community to address them efficiently.
It’s Also Time to Address a Tools Gap
Immunology is notoriously species-specific. We use animal models, but how often do they send us down proverbial rabbit holes? The local Cambridge/Boston community is an international hub for “Humanizing Drug Discovery & Disease Modeling” — the integration of tissue engineering, organs-on-chips, synthetic biology, and systems biology, all aimed at building better patient avatars. For example, new systems biology approaches to “species translation” employ multi-omic data from humans and animals to predict human responses. New approaches to microfluidics and other in vitro tools will transform the fidelity of controlling sex steroids in culture. Another goal of this discussion group is to identify the pain points in modeling HUMANS — and fix them!
Let’s Talk! And Take Action! New “SeXX and Immunity” Series Addresses Gaps
MIT is joining forces with the Ragon Institute to create a vibrant community, inclusive of industry, academic, and non-profit investigators who want to share ideas, successes, tools, methods — anything to improve our ability to understand and harness sex differences human immunity! We are embarking on a format of a provocative seminar, followed by a Gordon Research Conference-style poster session, with food and beverages. These sessions may include round tables, or other discussion formats.
The goal is to mix it up among the local investigators who could benefit from getting to know each other, and who could help each other move faster and more efficiently. We especially encourage young faculty and students to attend and present work.
Series Launched on March 2 with Sabra Klein!
On March 2, 2022, MIT kicked off a new series of seminars called “SeXX and Immunity,” with a talk by Dr. Sabra Klein of Johns Hopkins University. She discussed “SeXX matters for viral infection and vaccination.” This and future sessions will explore our understanding of sex differences and sex dimorphism in relation to immune responses and how presentations of infectious diseases differ based on biology.
Building a Community of Experts
Diseases that disproportionately impact women (who have two X chromosomes) have historically been underfunded and understudied. In addition to the SeXX and Immunity series, we’re building a community of experts from multiple subspecialties and varied expertise to discuss and study complex chronic illnesses and poorly understood pathology. We need to work together to solve these complex problems. We hope to see you at the seminars and poster sessions to start a whole new dialogue.
About our Speaker
Sabra Klein, PhD, is Professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. She holds joint appointments in the Departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and International Health and participates in the Cellular and Molecular Medicine Program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Dr. Klein is an expert on sex and gender differences in immune responses and susceptibility to infection. She currently has over 130 peer-reviewed publications, authored several book chapters, and edited two books on the broad topics of sex differences in response to infection and treatments for infectious diseases. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Klein has written commentaries for several journals and been interviewed by several major news media outlets about male-biased disease outcomes.
Faculty Leads and Event Sponsors
Michal (Mikki) Caspi Tal, is a principal scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She leads the Tal Research Group within the department of Biological Engineering, in collaboration with the Center for Gynepathology Research (CGR). She and her team study host-pathogen interactions and diversity of immune responses to tick-borne diseases (specifically Borrelia burgdorferi). Mikki is particularly focused on immune responses to infectious disease that have gone awry. From tick-borne disease to COVID, there are many similarities across chronic inflammatory diseases – and important sex differences in their immune responses – which are the focus of the Tal Group. Mikki and her team want to understand how sex differences impact the immune response to infectious disease, and how specific infectious diseases could be causing pathology in the female reproductive tract.
Mikki received her PhD at Yale University in Immunobiology under the mentorship of Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, researching how immune responses to viruses are impacted by processes such as aging. She followed with postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Irving Weissman at Stanford, serving as an instructor at the university’s Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine, leading the infectious disease team and studying immumodulatory mechanisms that impact immune clearance of infectious disease. Mikki has been awarded NIH NIAID F31 and F32 pre and postdoctoral fellowships, as well as the Emerging Leader Award from Bay Area Lyme Foundation.
Linda Griffith, PhD, is the School of Engineering Teaching Innovation Professor of Biological and Mechanical Engineering and MacVicar Fellow at MIT, where she directs the Center for Gynepathology Research. She led development of the Biological Engineering SB degree program, which was approved in 2005 as MIT’s first new undergraduate major in 39 years.
Griffith has pioneered approaches in tissue engineering, including the first tissue-engineered cartilage in the shape of a human ear; commercialization of the 3DP™ Printing Process for manufacture of FDA-approved scaffolds; commercialization of the 3D perfused “LiverChip” for drug development; and synthetic matrices for tissue morphogenesis. She recently led one of two major DARPA-supported “body-on-a-chip” programs, resulting in the first platform to culture ten different human mini-organ systems interacting continuously for a month. See full bio here.
Doug Kwon, PhD, MD, is a physician scientist at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard and Director of Clinical Operations at the Ragon Institute. He has a clinical practice in the division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. He received his M.D. and PhD degrees from New York University and then underwent Internal Medicine training at the University of California, San Francisco, and New York Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He then completed his training in the combined Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital Infectious Disease fellowship program.
Katy Bowman, MD, is postdoctoral fellow at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), MIT, and Harvard in the laboratory of Galit Alter, PhD. She is studying antibodies and Fc-mediated immune functions in niche compartments across multiple pathogens, including Lyme disease, SARS-CoV-2 infection, and tuberculosis. Katy also serves clinically as an infectious diseases physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and MGH. She received her M.D. at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and completed Internal Medicine residency training at the University of Washington in Seattle. She recently finished fellowship training at the combined MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital Infectious Diseases fellowship program.
Erin Sanders, MSN, WHNP-BC, is a Nurse Practitioner and Clinical Scientist at the MIT Department of Biological Engineering. Her research is currently focused on sex differences in immune response and chronic disease presentation, specifically in Lyme Disease and Long Covid. She earned her master’s degree in nursing (MSN) from the William F. Connell School of Nursing at Boston College. Erin completed a year-long internship in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She then earned her board certification as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP-BC). She has practiced in various clinic environments including private practice outpatient OB/GYN, Stanford’s Women’s Cancer Center, as well as Stanford’s Multidisciplinary Pelvic Health Center. In addition to her clinical expertise, Erin brings a passion for women’s health and holistic patient care to her research of complex chronic illness.