Dr. Lisa Barrett
Inflammation, Infection & Immunity
Anti-aging the immune system:
Infectious diseases specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett is turning what’s she’s learning about curing hepatitis C into potential new strategies for rejuvenating “worn out” immune systems.
“Hepatitis C virus doesn’t stimulate a robust-enough immune response to eliminate the virus or build up protective immunity, and fighting the longstanding infection makes your immune system look old," says Dr. Barrett, an assistant professor in the departments of Microbiology & Immunology and Medicine.
While there are no vaccines against hepatitis C, there are new antivirals that cure HCV. Dr. Barrett helped test these in early-stage trials at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland, U.S.A. Now she’s running clinical trials of these new treatments across Atlantic Canada, starting with a groundbreaking study involving offenders in Prince Edward Island’s correctional centre. People are being cured as part of PEI's visionary program to eliminate hepatitis C by treating it in correctional and community settings simultaneously.
Back in the lab, Dr. Barrett uses flow cytometry to study how patients’ immune systems are responding to hepatitis C treatments. “Remarkably, treatment with the new antivirals seems to reverse the immune aging that happens with hepatitis C,” she says. “We’re looking at individual cells from hepatitis C patients to see if we can discover mechanisms leading to this anti-aging effect. If so, we could have a key to rejuvenating the aging immune system and protecting people from infections and cancer as they get older.”
At the same time, Dr. Barrett and her team are pioneering potential new approaches to curing HIV infection with stem cell transplants.
Flow cytometry is essential to her laboratory research. “None of my anti-aging or HIV cure research would be possible without flow cytometry,” she says. “The arrival of a more powerful new flow cytometer, purchased with funds raised through the Molly Appeal, will dramatically accelerate our progress.”