Elucidating the genomics of immunity

Dr. Ido Amit, whose research aims to crack the genomic code that regulates blood-cell development and the immune response, has been awarded the Rappaport Prize for Excellence in Biomedical Research for 2016. 

Dr. Amit is a member of the Institute’s Department of Immunology and incumbent of its Alan and Laraine Fischer Career Development Chair.  He explores the genetics of immunology, trying to decode what in our genomes directs immune cells to differentiate and respond to invading pathogens or tumors. 

In particular, he focuses on understanding functional specification of the immune system, which is critical for the generation of the different responses required to protect the host against a broad range of threats such as pathogens and cancer, but also from self-destruction, referred to as autoimmunity. However, such complexity cannot be fully assessed by the current methods that investigate bulk populations of immune cells, which may have in some cases opposing functions.

Emerging so-called single-cell technologies developed by Dr. Amit provide unprecedented opportunities to draw a more accurate picture of immune cells functions, including basic mechanisms, transitions from normal to disease states and response to therapies. With increasing need to tailor therapies according to genetic, molecular, and cellular characteristics of the disease in each individual patient, single-cell analysis may become the basis for modern precision medicine, also referred to as personalized medicine.

His aim is to engineer cells and create individualized therapies for a wide range of disorders ranging from neurodegenerative disease to cancer and aging.  To decipher the genes and pathways involved in these diseases, he is merging pioneering single-cell genomics with concepts from disciplines as diverse as biotechnology, physics, computer science, molecular biology and functional genomics.  Once such resolution is achieved, he believes, the gap between our understanding of an individual’s personal genome and its physiological consequences in health and disease will be bridged—advancing diagnostics and opening the gates to a future of personalized medicine rooted in the genome of each individual.

The Rappaport Prize—which is awarded for “research with the potential to advance the health of mankind and benefit people worldwide [and] have real and applicable therapeutic implications for human welfare”—is among dozens of honors earned by Dr. Amit including the EMBO Gold Medal Award.  He has also published widely, including articles in Science and Cell which challenged existing knowledge of regulatory regions in the genome and their effect on the functioning of our immune system in health and disease.

Advanced genomic research is rapidly expanding the horizons of immunology toward new fields and disorders from pathogenesis of infectious diseases, inflammatory and autoimmune disorders, metabolic diseases, cancer, and even neurodegenerative and aging-related disorders.  Dr. Amit is on its frontlines, working to identify and develop innovative and personalized genomic-based immune- mediated therapeutic interventions and strategies for treating cancer and neurodegeneration.

Dr. Ido Amit is supported by the Abramson Family Center for Young Scientists, the Benoziyo Endowment Fund for the Advancement of Science, the Alan and Laraine Fischer Foundation, Herbert and Esther Hecht, Bevery Hills, CA, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the J & R Center for Scientific Research, the Ruth and Samuel Rosenwasser Charitable Fund, the David and Fela Shapell Family Foundation INCPM Fund for Preclinical Studies, and the Wolfson Family Charitable Trust. He is the incumbent of the Alan and Laraine Fischer Career Development Chair.

 

Dr. Ido Amit