Jessica N. Lancaster, Ph.D., investigates age-associated alterations to the immune system. Dr. Lancaster's research focuses on the development and response of T cells and B cells, members of the immune system that are exquisitely tailored to their targets and are essential for resolving infectious threats. Using advanced live-cell imaging, Dr. Lancaster directly visualizes T and B cells as they interact within their organ microenvironments in order to understand how communication within the immune system breaks down with age.
- T cell recruitment and homeostasis. Dr. Lancaster uses a combination of live-cell imaging, in vitro cell culture and genomics to investigate why the cells that support the immune microenvironment are altered with age, leading to poor recruitment and maintenance of T cells.
- Immune response to infection and vaccination. To recognize a target and generate an immune response requires the mobilization of many types of immune cells. Dr. Lancaster's goal is to pinpoint the steps in the immune response that are delayed with age.
- Cell interactions within solid tumors. Despite advances in cancer immunotherapy, there is insufficient understanding of what occurs within the solid tumor environment. Thus, the factors that determine whether a patient will respond to immunotherapy are unknown. Dr. Lancaster uses advanced microscopy within the context of live tumors in order to understand the immune cell interactions that occur during cancer treatment.
Significance to patient care
As the immune system ages, it is less able to combat new pathogens and responds poorly to vaccination, making the elderly more vulnerable to infectious disease. The aged immune system also has more trouble recognizing cancer, making therapy less effective in elderly patients. At the same time, the immune system is more likely to be activated inappropriately, leading to increased incidence of autoimmune disease. As an ever-increasing segment of the world's population reaches the age of 65 years and older, it is critical to understand why the immune system changes with age in order to develop strategies to improve immunity and quality of life.