There is growing evidence that the immune system, and in particular its relationship to inflammation, plays a critical role in many more human diseases than was previously realized, including cancer, diabetes, atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease.
Exploring and unlocking this relationship in order to substantially improve human health is the charge of Emory's new multi-disciplinary Kathleen B. and Mason I. Lowance Center for Human Immunology. The center's research is being directed by a husband-and-wife team of exceptional scientists, newly arrived in Atlanta from the Mayo Clinic.
Dr. Jorg J. Goronzy has an international reputation in the field of the immunobiology of autoimmune disease. His work has most recently focused on how humans establish and maintain effective immune systems over the course of their lifetimes.
Dr. Goronzy's studies have led to insights concerning the aging of the immune system, and he is working to develop methods to prevent immune dysfunction with progressive age. He is the first holder of the Mason I. Lowance, MD Chair in Human Immunology in the Department of Medicine of the Emory University School of Medicine.
"The immune system," said Dr. Goronzy, "causes disease by failing to protect us against cancer and infections and, equally important, by driving inflammation, a growing spectrum of chronic human diseases we are coming to appreciate increasingly. We must develop the tools to measure the functionality of the immune system in those that are healthy and want to stay healthy and in those that become sick when the system fails."
Dr. Goronzy previously served as co-director of the Clinical Immunology and Immunotherapeutics Program at the Mayo Clinic, a newly founded program integrating basic research, teaching and clinical care for patients with immune-mediated diseases. He received his clinical training in his native Germany and at Stanford University and has published and lectured extensively.
Dr. Cornelia M. Weyand is known throughout the world for her work in defining disease mechanisms in chronic inflammatory syndromes, particularly inflammatory blood vessel disease and rheumatoid arthritis. She is currently investigating how premature aging of the immune system contributes to coronary artery disease, blood vessel inflammation and rheumatoid arthritis.
At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Weyand served as the Barbara Woodward Lips Professor of Medicine and Immunology and led a research team that has investigated the role of the immune system in chronic inflammatory disease. She established and co-directed the Center for Clinical Immunology and Immunotherapeutics. Dr. Weyand also received her training in Germany and at Stanford and has authored more than 200 research publications and 30 book chapters. She is the first holder of the David C. Lowance, MD Chair in Human Immunology at Emory.
"Inflammation driven by the immune system lies at the heart of allergic and autoimmune diseases," explained Dr. Weyand, "and we have become very skillful in targeting the immune system to treat these diseases with novel therapies. Organ transplantation is now a routine intervention, but only so because we have mastered harnessing the immune system.
"Most unexpected," continued Dr. Weyand, "has been the discovery that inflammation and immunity play a critical role in diseases such as atherosclerosis and Alzheimer's disease. And, there is renewed recognition that the development of cancer results from a breakdown of immune protection, and that tumor immunology is the cancer therapy of the future." The center, she said, will provide a platform for interdisciplinary studies into chronic inflammatory diseases.
More than 200 people were in attendance at the Emory Conference Center on May 24 for a formal celebration of the establishment of the Kathleen B. and Mason I. Lowance Center for Human Immunology and the appointment of the chairs.