Immunology constitutes the forefront of medical and life sciences. Our understanding of the immune system has undergone rapid transformation over the last twenty years. The persistent effort by our faculty members leads to the formation of four featured directions for immunological research at Peking University.
Lymphocyte development: The cellular process and molecular basis of lymphocyte development is one of our major research interests. Previous studies have defined a developmental program for the newly generated single-positive thymocytes prior to their exportation to the periphery, and elucidated a new developmental checkpoint critical for functional maturation and possibly for negative selection. The current studies are focused on the molecular mechanisms regulating the development of single-positive thymocytes, the generation and maintenance of the thymic epithelial structure, and physiological and pathological significance of thymic involution.
Immunogenomics: A large number of genes in the human genome remain functionally elusive. We have developed a variety of bioinformatic and experimental strategies for high-throughput and genome-wide screening of new molecules implicated in the immune response. This has led to the discovery of many candidate genes of immunological relevance. At present, studies are being undertaken to explore their structure, function and pathological significance, with the ultimate goal to identify new targets for immune intervention.
Immunoregulation and autoimmunity: The immunoregulation and autoimmunity laboratory is mainly interested in the immunological and genetic basis of such autoimmune diseases as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Studies with large cohorts are carried out to analyze the genetic polymorphisms associated with the diseases and to evaluate the diagnostic performance of newly identified markers. In addition, we are exploring the immune regulatory functions of antibodies against glycoconjugates and ectopicall expressed self-antigens in activated T cells.
Tumor immunology: The tumor microenvironment is featured with potent immunosuppressive properties. One aspect of our tumor immunology studies inquires into novel subsets of immune cells with regulatory functions and the mechanisms of their action in hepatocellular carcinoma. Enormous efforts have also been made to isolate new tumor associate antigens and to characterize the immunological properties of the candidate antigens. Several antigens have thus been identified, which hold promise in cancer diagnosis and treatment. Currently, their potential as target antigens in cancer vaccination is intensively tested in animal models.