Interleukin-21: A New Thymopoietic Elixir
Moutih Rafei, PhD
Dr. Moutih Rafei is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Department of Pharmacology of Montreal University as of 2013. He completed a PhD in Experimental Medicine at McGill University in 2009 and a post-doctoral training in Immunobiology at Montreal University in 2013. He has been awarded a Fonds de la recherché en santé (FRSQ) Chercheurs-boursiers award and a Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute grant in 2013.
T cells are crucial components of the immune system as they are involved in primary and secondary immune responses. Their ability to produce various cytolytic agents render them extremely efficient against tumor cells. Therefore, they are necessary in the context of ailments relying on rapid protection as in the case of neonatal and early childhood period where natural immunity and conventional memory networks are not yet fully established. However, pre-conditioning treatments of leukemia patients using radio- and chemotherapies prior to bone marrow transplantation (BMT) lead to substantial thymic damages impairing T-cell development. Consequently, patients undergoing BMT do not re-establish functional immunity, which ultimately leads to immunodeficiencies, cancer re-emergence, and poor response to vaccination or immune-supportive care. The research program of Dr. Rafei will clarify whether interleukin (IL)-21 or its combination with other thymopoietins can stimulate thymic reconstitution for the generation of a functional immune system following BMT. Understanding such concept will provide new opportunities and strengthen multi-disciplinary collaborations to lead innovative IL-21-based strategies directed against key health research problems: reducing cancer relapse and emergence of secondary hematological malignancies in pediatric and young adult patients who underwent BMT. Furthermore, it will provide superior responsiveness to subsequent immunotherapies such as vaccines, cytokines or monoclonal antibodies. The favorable outcome of this proposal will have significant ramifications on the future of strategies aimed at rebuilding the immune system.