In a back corner of the University of Missouri’s medical building, a few floors above the hospital and tucked away to the right, Habib Zaghouani watches a cellular war. He has been up there for seven years, with an army of graduate students and a colony of mice, trying to understand why our bodies attack us and how we can make them stop.
Will describes a recent collaboration with a neurologist, in which they studied food intake during pregnancy and analyzed its affects on the later onset of autism in baby mice. Though the project initially seemed disconnected from his other initiatives, Will notes that collaborative work “gives you more inspiration for your own project.”
Zaghouani’s third project has had great success. Cara Haymaker, who is in charge of this research program, reports that they have identified a successful treatment for experimental allergic encephalomyelitis, a disease affecting mice that is very similar to multiple sclerosis in humans. So far, the research team has been able to completely reverse the disease in mice with two forms of treatment.
Jason Ellis leads the project that examines how a T cell decides whether to live or die after fighting an infection. These memory T cells, the ones that remain, keep the same illness from happening all over again, and vaccines are based on this same principle.
Christine Hoeman is the head of Zaghouani’s project researching infant immune systems, an effort that seeks to understand why a newborn is more likely to have allergic reactions and fevers. The project will hopefully result in better vaccines for babies.
Danielle Tartar leads the project that works to treat Type I diabetes. In mice, the team has been able to isolate treatment and calm the immune cells that attack the insulin-producing cells. They are now working to create a form of that treatment that can be administered orally. Thus far, they have been able to treat the disease with weekly shots, and they plan to begin testing these treatments on humans very soon.
Zaghouani’s passion for immunology springs from a love of genetics and a fascination with the human immune system. He sees his work as more a hobby than a job, and has been able to share his knowledge of the subject with his many graduate students and lab technicians.