Dr. Beata Derfalvi
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity
As a pediatric immunologist at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, N.S., Dr. Beata Derfalvi often treats patients with what seem like contradictory conditions—severe immune deficiencies, coupled with autoimmunity or inappropriately over-reactive immune responses, such as inflammation.
“These are very complex patients,” says Dr. Derfalvi, an associate professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Microbiology & Immunology at Dalhousie Medical School. “Their immune systems are dysregulated, so these children are vulnerable to repeated life-threatening infections as well as to severe tissue damage caused by immune attacks on their own cells.”
Dr. Derfalvi and her colleague, Dr. Thomas Issekutz, use flow cytometry (cell sorting and analysis) equipment to understand what’s happening with their patients’ immune systems and to monitor their response to treatments. Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s 2016-17 Molly Appeal will purchase a more sophisticated flow cytometer, which will reveal many more vital details about the numbers, types and activities of patients’ immune cells.
“Our work straddles the border between research and patient care,” notes Dr. Derfalvi, who worked as a pediatric immunologist and rheumatologist in Hungary for 14 years before coming to Canada in 2013. “In helping individual patients, we are also contributing to the broader knowledge of what’s happening in these difficult diseases.”
She and Dr. Issekutz are exploring how intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIG), a biological therapy used to treat complex immune disorders, affects regulatory cells of the immune system. At the same time, they’re examining the mechanisms of juvenile arthritis—in particular, they want to see if particles known as microRNA drive or moderate inflammation in the disease. As Dr. Derfalvi notes, “They’re a biomarker of the disease, and they are also a potential target for treatment.”