LSU Vet Med scientist receives American Association of Immunologist fellowship

11/4/2021

Michael McGee, a fourth-year Ph.D. student at the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, has received an American Association of Immunologists Fellowship designed to encourage the career development of young scientists. AAI typically awards 25 Careers in Immunology Fellowships to scientists worldwide each year. 

McGee’s project focuses on T cells in the lungs following flu infection. These T cells develop a “memory” that can recognize the flu virus and can rapidly respond to reinfections and help clear the viruses. But if they respond too aggressively, they can lead to long-lasting damage to the lungs. 

“My work aims to further understand how this double-edged sword of protection versus damage is properly balanced. We’re looking at the role of T-cell signaling and how it could potentially regulate immune response,” McGee said.

Strong immunity is important to rid the body of a virus; however, it can lead to tissue damage if not properly controlled. Inflammation can continue long after the infection is gone. The production of the immunoregulatory cells is critical in limiting tissue damage during flu infection. Specific markers can help identify these cells for therapeutic use.

McGee conducts his project research in the laboratory of Weishan Huang, Ph.D., assistant professor of immunology at LSU Vet Med and McGee’s mentor on the project. Her research focuses on how influenza infection can be blocked, how immune responses to flu can be made specific, and how viral infection-induced immunopathology can be prevented and treated. She has been awarded a $1.878 million grant to research the immune response to influenza infection that affects the respiratory system. 

Influenza infection is a leading cause of respiratory disease and death worldwide, causing 3-5 million cases of severe illness and more than 250,000 deaths during an average flu season. Factor in COVID-19, and the need for understanding and regulating the body’s immune response to viral infection in the lungs becomes even more urgent.

With infection-induced immunopathology, there are two types of damage. The first is virus-caused tissue damage. The second is from the initial viral infection that triggers our immune response, which can go overboard and cause tissue damage. 

“We’ve known about this second type since the early 2,000s. Delving into solutions is very exciting and interesting. The study of respiratory disease is a prominent field right now. This fellowship helps situate me for a lifetime of work,” McGee said.

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Michael McGee

Michael McGee