For Scientists Research Information Alumni Connection

Serwold, Tom, Ph.D.

Research Summary

An Investigator in the Section on Immunobiology, Dr. Tom Serwold studies how T cells of the immune-system cells are generated and how they work—research that helps to shed light on what causes type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases.
T cells develop in the thymus, where multiple cell types, including thymic epithelial cells, train them not to attack the body’s own cells. Self-reactive T cells generally are eliminated before they mature and exit the thymus, but this process is not 100% efficient, and in type 1 diabetes, T cells that escape elimination in the thymus end up targeting insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Dr. Serwold’s lab is taking two approaches to study the process of normal and autoimmune T cell development. They study growth factors that drive the proliferation and survival of developing T cells. These factors, which are upregulated in mice with T cell developmental abnormalities, may allow the development of T cells with autoimmune receptors that would normally be eliminated.  These studies focus on identification of the pathways that regulate thymic growth factor expression, with the idea that identification of these factors and pathways will generate new targets for preventing autoimmune T cell development.

In a related line of research, the Serwold lab focuses on identifying unique populations of thymic epithelial cells and their progenitors and is exploring distinct roles of epithelial subsets in driving development of specific types of T cells. Identification and manipulation of thymic epithelial progenitors has promise for enhancing our understanding of how normal and autoimmune T cells develop, and also has direct therapeutic potential for thymus replacement therapy, as well as for the growing field of regenerative medicine, where tolerizing thymic epithelial cell transplantation could diminish rejection responses to other transplanted tissues.