Within the context of health and disease, Tim Willinger’s research team studies immune responses in the gut and the interaction between the immune system and commensal gut bacteria – the microbiota. At CIMED, his main focus is crosstalk (between the immune system and the gut microbiota) and its role in human inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – a common, devastating disease that has no cure.
“The immune system plays a crucial role in many human diseases. Genetic and environmental factors regulate this system; one factor is the large number of gut bacteria.”
During evolution, a symbiotic, complex relationship developed between the microbiota and the immune system. For example, animal studies implicated disturbed immune system-microbiota crosstalk as an important factor in development and persistence of gut inflammation. But not much is known about this crosstalk and its contribution to inflammatory diseases in humans. Because the immune system, inflammatory responses, and microbiota differ between mice and humans, novel experimental systems are required to investigate this.
“Besides understanding basic biological mechanisms, we aim to create a model in which we can study the immune system and IBD patients’ microbiota. Understanding the interplay of the immune system with the microbiota has great potential for developing novel strategies for disease treatments such as those for IBD.”
Willinger did his PhD on human immunology with Professor Andrew McMichael at the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine in Oxford. He then moved to Yale University for postdoc training with Professor Richard Flavell in one of the leading immunology labs in the world. As a postdoc fellow, he developed novel experimental models for studying the human immune system in vivo. He recently joined CIMED to continue his research on the human immune system.