In search of . . . transplantation tolerance, Dale L. Greiner, PhD

March 08, 2011

Each Tuesday, the Daily Voice on UMassMedNow features a first-person narrative from a researcher explaining the science behind a recent grant, and the inspiration or impetus behind becoming a scientist at UMass Medical School. If you know of a researcher you’d like to see profiled, send an e-mail toUMMScommunications@umassmed.edu.


 

Dale L. Greiner, PhD, professor of medicine, talks about the science behind his grant: Viral Infection Influence on Transplantation Tolerance, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one year, $1,831,155; recommended for four additional years, $7.8 million

Dale Greiner 



Transplant patients require lifelong immunosuppressive therapies to prevent their bodies from rejecting grafts they have received. Unfortunately, this treatment may lead to increased risk of tumors and susceptibility to infections. Our research seeks to understand how the body’s immune system recognizes tissue grafts as foreign and how it can be trained to permanently accept those grafts without immunosuppressive therapies. This knowledge is crucial to the development of transplantation methodologies that will reduce or eliminate the need for chronic immunosuppression. 

We have a distinguished group of scientists on our team: Drs. Michael Czech, Raymond Welsh, Roger Davis, Liisa Selin and Michael Brehm from UMMS, as well as Dr. Premlata Shankar from Texas Tech and Dr. Leonard Shultz from The Jackson Laboratory. Together, we have discovered a novel approach using short-term modulation of a mouse immune system to induce permanent graft survival without chronic immunosuppression. We are also identifying the mechanisms behind a graft rejection due to infection, and are translating these findings to a human immune system. 

When I was a college student working as a medical technologist in a clinical laboratory, I often wondered why some people get sick and develop infections, cancer or autoimmunity while others do not. I realized that simply understanding a disease’s symptoms would not lead to an effective approach to prevent it. 

My graduate school mentor introduced me to the world of immunology, which, at the time, was a new science and little was known about how the immune system controlled these diseases. He challenged me to ask why and how, rather than to simply catalog the clinical outcome. Each scientist I have interacted with since then has posed the same questions, and searching for the right answers continues to be a driving force in my life. 

I came to UMMS in 1991 to work with the diabetes research group who had just discovered that type 1 diabetes was in fact an immune-mediated disease. As an immunologist, learning how the immune system in type 1 diabetics identifies the insulin-producing cells as “foreign” and rejects them was, and continues to be, a fascinating question that underlies the basis for diabetes as well as many autoimmune disorders. 

Scientific research is an ongoing learning experience and no two days are the same. The questions are fascinating and the approaches to understanding the answers are constantly evolving. Research provides the opportunity to interact with some of the brightest and most talented individuals in the world, and learn from them and apply that new knowledge to your work and life.