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Platsoucas, Oleszak Seminar Helps to Launch ODU's Center for Molecular Medicine

Chris Platsoucas, dean of the Old Dominion University College of Sciences, and his wife and research collaborator, Emilia Oleszak, associate professor of biological sciences, will present their latest work concerning the surprisingly complex-and sometimes inimical-workings of the human immune system at a noon seminar, Friday, Sept. 12, as the first public presentation of ODU's Center for Molecular Medicine (CMM).

The center was recently established to enhance biomedical research at the university and to increase the research and research support received by the College of Sciences. It will be a focal point for biomedical research including immunology, virology, microbiology and molecular pathogenesis, infectious diseases, inflammation and mammalian molecular genetics supported by peer-reviewed research grants primarily from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other sources.

Additional areas of research will include bioinformatics, systems biology and computational/mathematical biology, and emphasis will be given to interdisciplinary interactions. "The CMM will bring together biomedical scientists to foster and enhance collaborative research interactions among departments, across colleges of ODU and other institutions," Platsoucas said.

The center will serve as a catalyst to facilitate the submission of major grants, such as program project grants, center grants and training grants, with the objective to substantially increase National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for ODU. "Although grant awards to the college have been increased this year by 11.8 percent to $12.78 million, grant support from NIH is limited and must be increased for the university to become a top 100 public research institution," the dean said.

Friday's seminar led by Platsoucas and Oleszak launches a seminar series of the CMM. The title of the presentation is "Human Autoimmune Diseases and Anti-Tumor Immunity Are Specific-Antigen Driven and Are Mediated Primarily by T Cells: Identification of the Antigens."

The seminar will be from noon to 1 p.m. in the first floor auditorium of the E.V. Williams Engineering and Computational Sciences Building. Christopher Osgood, associate dean of the college and associate director of the Center for Molecular Medicine, is the organizer of the seminar series.

Platsoucas is an internationally recognized research investigator and scholar in the United States and abroad because of seminal research discoveries on the molecular and cellular immunology of human T cells. He has authored or co-authored more than 160 research articles and reviews that are frequently cited in the scientific literature. He has been awarded $23.5 million in research grant support, about $18 million of which was for projects for which he has been or is principal investigator.

The dean, who came to ODU last year, has studied the way T cells cause and maintain chronic inflammation in humans. (T cells are white blood cells that typically protect against infection and disease and are essential to the human immune system. But in autoimmune responses, T cells can attack the body's healthy cells and trigger diseases.) The research lays the foundation for strategies against autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, osteoarthritis, abdominal aortic aneurisms, and against the human body's rejection of organ transplants.

Platsoucas also has done research in immunity against tumors and toward the development of tumor vaccines and other immunotherapy approaches, which someday may have broad use in the fight against cancer. Vaccines are designed to induce the immune system to detect and destroy cancer cells.

He often collaborates in T-cell research with Oleszak, a neurovirologist. She studies the role of T cells in inflammatory demyelinating diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

The couple is investigating the hypothesis that most human autoimmune diseases are specific antigen-driven T-cell diseases. In other words, T cells activated by antigens provide the engine for the chronic inflammation that is associated with autoimmune diseases, organ graft rejections and tumor immunity. Their research seeks to identify the T-cell antigen receptor transcripts employed by clonally expanded T cells in order to identify the specific antigens that elicit these adverse T-cell responses.

Daniel Sonenshine, ODU professor emeritus of biological sciences, will present the second CMM lecture on Oct. 31.

This article was posted on: September 11, 2008

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