Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis

Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis

Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis

Inflammation, Infection & Immunity, Molly Appeal

Killer instincts:
Natural Killer (NK) cells are on the frontlines of our immune system, scouting for enemy cells and viruses and killing anything they don’t recognize as safe. “NK cells are covered in receptors that sense the cells around them and determine if they should be slain or spared,” says Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis, head of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. “As part of our innate immune system, they provide that crucial protection in the first hours and days after exposure.”

Dr. Makrigiannis and his team have found that NK cells are very diverse—within an individual and from person to person. “NK cells with certain receptors target cancer cells, while NK cells with other receptors go after viruses,” he explains. “And, some people don’t have very strong receptors. Their NK cells do not see, bind with, or destroy their usual targets. These people are highly susceptible to infections and cancers.”

The diversity in NK cell responses opens the door to design immune-boosting therapies to promote strong immune responses. Together with Dr. Jeanette Boudreau, Dr. Makrigiannis is working with experimental models to activate, isolate, clone or transplant NK cells with strong receptors to patients with infections or cancer.

A flow cytometer being purchased through the proceeds of the Molly Appeal is critical to Dr. Makrigiannis’ work. “Flow cytometry is the technology that enables us to tag and sort the NK cells,” he says. “Without it, our work would not be possible.”

Dr. Makrigiannis returned to the Maritimes in January 2016 as professor and head of the Department of Microbiology & Immunology. He completed his PhD at Dal in 1998. He’s thrilled to be back after stints at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, Clinical Research Institute of Montreal and the University of Ottawa.

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