Unraveling the mysteries of autoimmune diseases

A letter from LJI President and CSO Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D.
Photo portrait of Mitch Kronenberg at La Jolla Institute for Immunology
LJI President and Chief Scientific Officer Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D.

Of the three major research areas La Jolla Institute for Immunology focuses on—infectious disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease—the latter is least understood by the general public, but also the one whose incidence is increasing most evidently. With 23 million Americans suffering from 80-plus different disorders, autoimmunity affects more lives than any disease category.

Our cover story in this issue of Immune Matters reveals how the Institute is unraveling the mystery of how an immune system that normally protects us from harmful viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells can mistakenly turn on our bodies and attack healthy cells. The resulting inflammation and tissue damage wreaks havoc in the form of diseases ranging from type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and psoriasis, to multiple sclerosis, lupus, and inflammatory bowel disease.

You’ll learn how Institute scientists are conducting groundbreaking research on these debilitating diseases by expanding our knowledge of one piece of good news. The mechanisms causing immune system T cells to attack healthy cells seem to work similarly in many of these diseases, despite the diverse target organs.

In this issue, we also profile three of our scientists who embody the Institute’s world-leading reputation in immunology. In our Q&A with Principal Investigator Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci., you’ll read about an internationally renowned scientist who has devoted 30 years to understanding the immune response and using that research to develop interventional strategies against a variety of diseases. Dr. Sette is also the force behind the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB), an invaluable searchable site that gives scientists around the world free access to data from more than 1.6 million immunology experiments.

We also welcome the newest member of our faculty, Professor Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., whose innovative research explains, at the molecular level, how and why viruses like Ebola and Lassa are pathogenic and provides a roadmap for vaccines and cures. In our “Up and Coming” section we profile postdoctoral researcher Julie Burel, Ph.D., a native of France whose research on how the body responds to infections is gaining wide attention. Dr. Burel’s imaginative scientific mind led her to winning one of the Institute’s Tullie and Rickey Families SPARK Awards for Innovation in Immunology in 2019.

Finally, we profile Eric Zwisler, new chair of our Board of Directors, as we express appreciation to his predecessor, John Major. The Institute would not be where it is today without John’s visionary leadership and guidance in his nine outstanding years as chair. With his deep international experience in business and leading organizations, Eric is the perfect choice to help the Institute reach its greatest potential.

Whether it’s our dedicated researchers or our committed board members, the Institute is fortunate to have a remarkable team of collaborators working toward the same important scientific goals. As always, joining us in that effort are all of our wonderful Institute partners— including individual donors, foundations, and federal funding sources—who play such a crucial role in supporting research we believe will one day soon help us achieve our mission of Life Without Disease®.

Sincerely, Mitchell Kronenberg, Ph.D.
President & Chief Scientific Officer, La Jolla Institute for Immunology