Meghan Wyatt, a sixth-year molecular and cell biology Ph.D. student at the University of Connecticut, is conducting research on exploring how particular compounds enhance or suppress immune system activity.
“The overarching goal of the lab is to design cell-based assays to find compounds, or small molecules that modulate the immune system,” Wyatt said. “We spend a lot of time in assay development to develop screens.”
Screening is a technique used to find specific, desired compounds from various compounds within cell assays. The compounds are identified by their biological response.
Wyatt said she uses a cell line with three fluorescent reporters for transcription factors which have been developed by a collaborating lab at a medical university in Vienna. She said the fluorescent reporters allow her to monitor cell activity.
She believes her work has broader implications within biomedicine.
“These immunosuppressive compounds could be used to help patients with autoimmune disorders, things like arthritis,” Wyatt said. “Also, when you get a transplant, you might want an immunosuppressive compound because your immune system can attack a transplant.”
Wyatt also positioned the role of immunosuppressive compounds within the second-leading cause of death worldwide: Cancer.
“In the context of cancer: around the area of a tumor your immune cells are not able to function properly, and this is due to a variety of things,” Wyatt explained. “There are changes in metabolism. There are changes in structure in general of the tumor microenvironment. There are a whole host of things that cause your immune cells to not function well. If your immune cells were working correctly, they would be able to attack and clear the cancer before it becomes a problem.”
Wyatt then spoke about her own research in relation to the bodily system.
“One of my goals is to counteract one of these methods of suppression. It is cyclic AMP mediated immune suppression,” Wyatt said. “So I am looking for compounds that would enhance the immune system in that context. That would kind of ‘rescue’ the t-cells’ functions when they are being suppressed in that environment.”