Professor Kris Laukens (University of Antwerp / ImmuneWatch) receives an award from the AstraZeneca Foundation, after selection by independent juries of the FWO (Scientific Research Fund) and the FNRS (Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique).
His team develops a digital map of the adaptive immune system, which is the basis of the ImmuneWatch technology.
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Professor Laukens explains: “T lymphocytes are an essential part of the adaptive immune system. Their receptors must correctly recognize the proteins, the so-called epitopes, of a virus. Thanks to the analysis of blood samples with a special DNA sequencing technique, which reads the DNA of many thousands of T-cell receptors for each blood sample, we can now catalogue these interactions in a digital immune map. Our team developed machine learning solutions to decipher the underlying rules of these interactions, to crack their code. All with the aim of understanding why certain interactions occur, but also to be able to predict interactions for T cell receptors that we have not seen before.”
In the future, a blood sample could predict how our immune system will respond to a virus, a treatment or a vaccine. Professor Laukens: “At this stage, this technology is mainly used for research purposes, to understand infectious diseases and to develop new vaccines. But my dream is that one day, with a simple blood draw, we will be able to evaluate what a patient has been exposed to in the past, what are the ongoing infections and even how protected the person is from pathogens that he or she will encounter.”
Video and image credit: @AstraZenecaFoundation