At the center of our interest are effects of various factors on the human immune system. We are constantly subjected to a multitude of natural environmental stimuli (bacteria, viruses, fungal spores, allergens, etc.), but anthropogenic factors are present as well and may be increasing (fine dust, nanoparticles, exhaust gas, etc.). The current boom in nanotechnology may create safety hazards, but also promises groundbreaking applications, including medical ones. Against this background, investigations into nano-bio-interactions and into molecular mechanisms of regulations for different immune cells have developed into our major areas of research. Some hot topics:
Nanotechnology applies extremely small materials (1-100 mm), which have novel and attractive properties based on low mass and high surface area, allowing new technical applications. Due to their small size and their high surface reactivity they are able to penetrate body barriers, like airways, lung and gastrointestinal tract, which may induce both toxic and immuno-modulating responses. Biological effects can carry risks, but may also be useful for medical applications.
The highly reactive surface of nanomaterials causes quick and often rather stable binding of biological molecules, mainly proteins, which affects reactions of the body. This property may be used for intentional transport of proteins and other substances; however, binding to nanosurfaces can alter structure and function of proteins. Consequences for immunity are under study.
Interaction between unspecific and specific immune response in the lung
Immune cells recognize foreign substances via “pattern recognition” receptors, which deliver an important signal to decide about immune actions, either defense or the establishment of tolerance. Innate and adaptive immunity work together to reach a correct decision – in the case of allergy, the decision is of course incorrect. We use complex models mimicking the alveoli in the lung, to investigate effects that may be induced by inhaling mixtures of entities, which is what happens in real life.