Boes Lab

UMC Utrecht

At the Boes laboratory we study pediatric immunology. In other words we clarify mechanisms of the functioning of the developing immune system in children, in health and disease. 

Immune recognition

First it is important to understand how our immune response works. All specific immune responses start with the recognition of dangerous matter that can cause disease; think of it as bacteria, or even cancer cells. Considering our white blood cells that form most of our immune defense, dendritic cells are particularly capable at forming the bridge between the recognition of danger and mobilizing protective defense. On meeting dangerous matter, dendritic cells take bits and pieces thereof, and migrate to the nearest lymph node. Inside dendritic cells these foreign proteins are diced into small fragments (peptides) and loaded onto cell proteins, called class I or class II MHC molecules. These MHC molecules can be understood as serving trays that bring the peptide fragments back to the cell surface and present them to T cells. 

When the dendritic cells arrive in the lymph node, they encounter T cells. T cells are another type of white blood cell, specialized in fighting the encountered danger in the body. The dendritic cell presents its antigen material to the T cells. One set of the T-cells can only detect danger fragments when displayed by MHC I molecules, whereas another does this for fragments displayed by MHC II molecules. The T cells are like bloodhounds that can multiply: once they recognize the load presented by the MHC serving tray, they start dividing to form an army of cells and forcefully attack the dangerous felon. After the danger is removed, the immune response winds down and balance is restored. In many cases, we as people do not even notice these encounters as they occur inside our bodies.

Immune pathways

The Boes laboratory is fascinated by how peptide/MHC-driven activation of the adaptive immune system can be targeted to prevent or cure diseases. The team exploits its technical expertise in antigen presentation mechanisms that yield effective  T and B responses. 

Boes lab combines collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches - usually with other teams. Examples include the genetic screening and study of primary immunodeficiency patients. These are patients whose immune system's ability to fight infectious diseases and cancer is compromised. Guided by information from primary immunodeficiencies, the team explores immune pathway modification to prevent the clinical presentation of autoimmune or immunometabolic diseases. For this, the team focuses on diseases for which key biomarkers or drivers are already known (i.e., autoimmune forms of arthritis, type I diabetes, early atherosclerosis). 

Important is that although much of our research is pre-clinical, the goal is to help develop tools to prevent disease in people at risk. This latter research field has been especially under-investigated, and is focus of Boes lab efforts. 

This project is funded by
Grant no. 23984234

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