Researchers working to better understand the molecular makeup of autoimmune diseases, such as type 1 diabetes, are bringing us closer to new cell-based therapies to more effectively treat these incurable illnesses. At the forefront of this research is Dr. Jeffrey A. Bluestone, the A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor at the University of California San Francisco, and the Seventh Annual McNair Symposium Distinguished Lecturer at Baylor College of Medicine.

The symposium was created by The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation with a focus on collaboration and sharing of research among those who have been named McNair Scholars.

Bluestone, who also is CEO and president of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, will present “Developing Treg-based therapeutics to suppress pathogenic autoimmune responses” on Tuesday, April 3, at 10 a.m. in Cullen Auditorium at Baylor.

His lecture will focus on efforts to repair and replace Tregs to reinstate an immune balance to control autoimmunity. Tregs are T regulatory cells, a small subset of T cells that work to police the immune system and prevent the inappropriate recognition of self-tissues, which is the cause for autoimmune diseases. His talk will concentrate on his work on type 1 diabetes. In those living with this disease, genetic and environmental factors lead to deficits in Treg populations, leaving effector T cells able to run rampant, directly and indirectly destroying beta cells whose primary function is to store and release insulin.

Bluestone’s work also has implications in other autoimmune diseases, such as Lupus, and also organ transplantation. His work has led to the development of multiple protolerogenic immunotherapies including CTLA4lg, the first FDA approved drug targeting T cell co-stimulation to treat autoimmune disease and organ transplantation, a novel antibody being developed to treat type 1 diabetes, and the first CTLA-4 antagonist drugs approved for the treatment of metastatic melanoma.

Bluestone also is the founder and first director for the Immune Tolerance Network, the largest NIH-funded multicenter clinical immunology research program testing new immunotherapies in transplantation, autoimmunity and asthma/allergy. He has authored more than 400 peer-reviewed publications and has received numerous awards including election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Medicine. 

The McNair Scholars Program was founded in 2007 by The Robert and Janice McNair Foundation to recruit and enable world-class physician and scientific scholars to conduct collaborative and transformative biomedical research in breast and pancreatic cancers, type 1 diabetes and the neurosciences.

The latest two McNair Scholars are Dr. Thomas Westbrook, Welch Chair and professor of molecular and human genetics and of biochemistry and molecular biology, and Dr. Sameer Sheth, associate professor and vice chair of clinical research of neurosurgery. In all, 19 McNair Scholars have been named since the program’s creation. Learn more about their research and the McNair Scholars Program.