Leland H. Hartwell Ph.D.
2001 Nobel Laureate, Physiology & Medicine
Dr. Lee Hartwell received the 2001 Nobel Prize in Physiology / Medicine for his discovery of protein molecules that control the division of cells. He was the President and Director of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington before moving to Arizona State University’s Center for Sustainable Health.
Dr. Hartwell is also adjunct faculty at Amrita University. He spoke to the delegates at Bioquest from his office in the US, over Amrita’s e-learning platform A-View. Given below are excerpts from his address.
I would like to address the young people in the audience. I know that many of you may have come to this meeting wondering, “How can I become a successful scientist? How can I prepare myself to make a contribution in this world?”
These questions are interesting to me also.
Believe it or not, I am still trying to be a successful scientist. That may surprise you since you probably think that a Nobel laureate must have found the answers. But the problem is that the answers to these questions change with time and the answers are different today than what they were when I began my career fifty years ago. The strategy of the 1960’s doesn’t work so well anymore. What is different now?
First, what we know now is much more. For example, by 1970, no genes from any organisms were sequenced. In 2013, we have the complete sequence of the human genome. Second, not only do we know much more today, accessing that knowledge is easy. Third, obtaining new information is much faster today.
Our rich understanding of science and technology is now needed to solve many serious problems. The human population has reached the size where we are utilizing all available resource of the planet. We are utilizing all of the agricultural land, all of the water, all of the forest and fishing resources. We are also polluting the planet that we live on.
We are polluting the land with fertilizers and pesticides; the oceans with acids and the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. We are using up top soil and ground water, thereby reducing our capacity to feed ourselves. We are using up petroleum, the energy source that our entire economy is dependent on. These are problems we were largely unaware of, fifty years ago. But these are problems that must be solved in your life times.
The big question facing your generation is, how can human beings live sustainably on planet earth. Your two broad goals on sustainability are 1) leave the planet as you first found it for your future generations; don’t use up the resources and don’t pollute the planet 2) everyone deserves to have an equal share of the earth’s resources.
Income strongly determines one’s opportunities in life. Many poor people succumb to chronic diseases and unhealthy environments. This inequality undermines our ability to live sustainably. We can’t ask the poor to leave the planet as they found it if they can’t support their families. Education, healthcare, employment are essential to having a sustainable society.
How can we be a successful scientist in 2013?
1. First choose a problem to solve
2. Ask questions to understand why it is not solved
3. Collaborate with those who can help
4. Develop a solution that works in the real world
Chronic diseases are our major burden and this burden will get worse. Heart disease, diabetes, cancer, dementia and other diseases. The good news is that the chronic diseases are largely preventable and more easily curable if detected early. One question that attracts me is how can we detect disease earlier when it can be more easily cured?
Can we use our increasing knowledge in molecular biology to identify biomarkers for early disease detection?
We need to collaborate very closely with clinicians who care for patients to find out exactly where they need help.
I think if we apply our technology to important clinical questions we will actually save medical expenditure and be well on our way to making a great contribution to society.
R. Manjunath, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Dept of Biochemistry, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, India
REGULATION OF THE MHC COMPLEX AND HLA SOLUBILISATION BY THE FLAVIVIRUS, JAPANESE ENCEPHALITIS VIRUS
Viral encephalitis caused by Japanese encephalitis virus (JEV) and West Nile Virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne disease that is prevalent in different parts of India and other parts of South East Asia. JEV is a positive single stranded RNA virus that belongs to the Flavivirus genus of the family Flaviviridae. The genome of JEV is about 11 kb long and codes for a polyprotein which is cleaved by both host and viral encoded proteases to form 3 structural and 7 non-structural proteins. It is a neurotropic virus which infects the central nervous system (CNS) and causes death predominantly in newborn children and young adults. JEV follows a zoonotic life-cycle involving mosquitoes and vertebrate, chiefly pigs and ardeid birds, as amplifying hosts. Humans are infected when bitten by an infected mosquito and are dead end hosts. Its structural, pathological, immunological and epidemiological aspects have been well studied. After entry into the host following a mosquito bite, JEV infection leads to acute peripheral neutrophil leucocytosis in the brain and leads to elevated levels of type I interferon, macrophage-derived chemotactic factor, RANTES,TNF-α and IL-8 in the serum and cerebrospinal fluid.
Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) molecules play a very important role in adaptive immune responses. Along with various classical MHC class I molecules, other non-classical MHC class I molecules play an important role in modulating innate immune responses. Our lab has shown the activation of cytotoxic T-cells (CTLs) during JEV infection and CTLs recognize non-self peptides presented on MHC molecules and provide protection by eliminating infected cells. However, along with proinflammatory cytokines such as TNFα, they may also cause immunopathology within the JEV infected brain. Both JEV and WNV, another related flavivirus have been shown to increase MHC class I expression. Infection of human foreskin fibroblast cells (HFF) by WNV results in upregulation of HLA expression. Data from our lab has also shown that JEV infection upregulates classical as well as nonclassical (class Ib) MHC antigen expression on the surface of primary mouse brain astrocytes and mouse embryonic fibroblasts.
There are no reports that have discussed the expression of these molecules on other cells like endothelial and astrocyte that play an important role in viral invasion in humans. We have studied the expression of human classical class I molecules HLA-A, -B, -C and the non-classical HLA molecules, HLA-E as well as HLA-F in immortalized human brain microvascular endothelial cells (HBMEC), human endothelial cell line (ECV304), human glioblastoma cell line (U87MG) and human foreskin fibroblast cells (HFF). Nonclassical MHC molecules such as mouse Qa-1b and its human homologue, HLA-E have been shown to be the ligand for the inhibitory NK receptor, NKG2A/CD94 and may bridge innate and adaptive immune responses. We show that JEV infection of HBMEC and ECV 304 cells upregulates the expression of HLA-A, and –B antigens as well as HLA-E and HLA-F. Increased expression of total HLA-E upon JEV infection was also observed in other human cell lines as well like, human amniotic epithelial cells, AV-3, FL and WISH cells. Further, we show for the first time that soluble HLA-E (sHLA-E) was released from infected ECV and HBMECs. In contrast, HFF cells showed only upregulation of cell-surface HLA-E expression while U87MG, a human glioblastoma cell line neither showed any cell-surface induction nor its solubilization. This shedding of sHLA-E was found to be dependent on matrix metalloproteinase (MMP) and an important MMP, MMP-9 was upregulated during JEV infection. Treatment with IFNγ resulted in the shedding of sHLA-E from ECV as well as U87MG but not from HFF cells. Also, sHLA-E was shed upon treatment with IFNβ and both IFNβ and TNFα, when present together caused an additive increase in the shedding of sHLA-E. HLA-E is an inhibitory ligand for CD94/NKG2A receptor of Natural Killer cells. Thus, MMP mediated solubilization of HLA-E from infected endothelial cells may have important implications in JEV pathogenesis including its ability to compromise the blood brain barrier.
Andrey Panteleyev, Ph.D.
Vice Chair, Division of Molecular Biology, NBICS Centre-Kurchatov Institute, Moscow, Russia
The system of PAS proteins (HIF and AhR) as an interface between environment and skin homeostasis
Regulation of normal skin functions as well as etiology of many skin diseases are both tightly linked to the environmental impact. Nevertheless, molecular aspects of skin-environment communication and mechanisms coordinating skin response to a plurality of environmental stressors remain poorly understood.
Our studies along with the work of other groups have identified the family of PAS dimeric transcription factors as an essential sensory and regulatory component of communication between skin and the environment. This protein family comprises a number of hypoxia-induced factors (HIF-alpha proteins), aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), AhR nuclear translocator (ARNT), and several proteins implicated in control of rhythmic processes (Clock, Period, and Bmal proteins). Together, various PAS proteins (and first of all ARNT – as the central dimerization partner in the family) control such pivotal aspects of cell physiology as drug/xenobiotic metabolism, hypoxic and UV light response, ROS activity, pathogen defense, overall energy balance and breathing pathways.
In his presentation Dr. Panteleyev will focus on the role of ARNT activity and local hypoxia in control of keratinocyte differentiation and cornification. His recent work revealed that ARNT negatively regulates expression of late differentiation genes through modulation of amphiregulin expression and downstream alterations in activity of EGFR pathway. All these effects are highly dependent on epigenetic mechanisms such as histone deacetylation. Characterisation of hypoxia as a key microenvironmental factor in the skin and the role of HIF pathway in control of dermal vasculature and epidermal functions is another major focus of Dr. Panteleyev’s presentation.
In general, the studies of Dr. Panteleyev’s laboratory provide an insight into the PAS-dependent maintenance of skin homeostasis and point to the potential role of these proteins in pathogenesis of environmentally-modulated skin diseases such as barrier defects, desquamation abnormalities, psoriasis, etc.