When Gordon College Associate Professor of Biology Craig Story first spoke with MIT's Chris Love in 2006 about microengraving research at an early stage of development, he knew this research opportunity would couple nicely with his approaching sabbatical and his background in immunological research. What he didn't realize was that the method would provide the most detailed portrait yet of how single cells from the immune system respond to vaccination.
The research, funded by the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard University, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative, was first reported in the November 4 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. According to a recent MIT statement, their findings could help researchers develop and test new vaccines for diseases including HIV, fungal infections and antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
Story's and his fellow colleagues' research provides a way to obtain an extremely detailed snapshot of how thousands of single immune cells are responding to vaccination by separating each cell into a microscopic chamber and collecting its secretions for analysis.
"Clinical trials are continually being done for new vaccine formulations," said Story of the recent research. "Microengraving will potentially provide a way to gather more detailed information about the immune response to new vaccines, using fewer subjects. The end result could be better vaccines-becoming available more quickly-than otherwise would be possible. Instead of measuring the serum antibody concentration, one could see early on (one to two weeks after vaccination) which cells are being stimulated to secrete antibody. Furthermore, we could also see how good those antibodies are- that is, how tightly they bind to the virus or bacterium."
Story, who has served on the faculty at Gordon College since 2002, is excited about the potential reach their findings could have. "The new technique may potentially also be used to address basic research questions not answerable with existing research tools," he said.
Story did his postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Immunologist Hidde Ploegh and is the lead author of the paper. The full research team included J. Christopher Love, assistant professor in chemical engineering at MIT; Eliseo Papa, graduate student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology; Chih-Chi Andrew Hu, postdoctoral fellow at the Whitehead Institute; Jehnna Ronan, former Harvard undergraduate at the Whitehead Institute; and Hidde Ploegh, professor of biology and member of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research.
Gordon's close proximity to Boston's top research labs was an essential aspect for Story's participation as well as that of his students'.
"Gordon students were able to participate in the research-mostly in the aspect of generating antibodies that recognize the Hepatitis B virus," said Story. "Two students in particular, Kristin Sterrett, now a medical student at Temple University in Philadelphia, and Julia Stead, who will be a first-year medical student this fall at SUNY Upstate Medical University, in Syracuse, New York, helped with the vaccinations and much of the cell culture aspects during the spring semester of their senior year at Gordon College."
Now that the paper is published, Story plans to continue his research in the new Ken Olsen Science Center located at the center of the Christian college campus.
"My goal is to do microengraving right here at Gordon College," said Story. "I'm concluding the analysis of the Hepatitis B antibodies with my biochemistry class, and so far the students have been cataloging cells and conducting protein analysis. I think it's important students get involved in national research at the undergraduate level. I hope their contributions to these antibodies can be used by a friend and colleague who has started a company to provide disease diagnostics for the developing world."
For more information or to conduct an interview with Dr. Craig Story regarding this important research, contact the Gordon College Office of College Communications at 978.867.4235.
Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The college offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian Colleges.
Photo: Justin Knight/Whitehead Institute. Pictured left to right: J. Christopher Love, Craig Story, Chih-Chi Andrew Hu and Eliseo Papa.