By working to understand how humans coexist with their microbiomes, 2019 Lurie Prize Winner Yasmine Belkaid is uncovering a vast, but largely ignored, arm of the immune system -- microbiome-specific T cells. She thinks targeting these tunable cells could provide new ways to improve wound healing, fight infections or treat immune disorders at barrier surfaces, such as inflammatory bowel disease.
Belkaid’s research examines the interplay between the commensal microbiome and the immune cells that constantly survey it. She is director of the Microbiome Program and chief of the Metaorganism Immunity Section in the Laboratory of Immune System Biology at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
A 2019 Science paper is the most recent study from her lab to shine light on the distinct biology of commensal-specific T cells, which due to the microbiome’s immense biomass, make up a substantial portion of the immune repertoire. These cells