Inauguration Mangala Srinivas: ‘We need noninvasive techniques to study moving (immune) cells in an organism’

July 7, 2022

‘Noninvasive imaging, at a functional, molecular and anatomic level, will help us better understand (immune) cell function in a range of animal and plant species’, said Mangala Srinivas in her inaugural lecture as Professor and Chair of Cell Biology and Immunology at Wageningen University & Research on the 7th of July. Other key points of her lecture were the chemistry of imaging agents, and the need for scientists to feel- and act on- a sense of responsibility for future generations.

The recent pandemic has made all of us into ‘armchair immunologists’. While it has made clear how essential and astounding our immune system is, the pandemic has also highlighted how little we know about how our immune system works.

New discoveries

In her inaugural lecture Professor Srinivas explicated the key players of the immune system and presented new discoveries that can be used to generate a better understanding of immune cell function in vivo. Key players of the immune system that she focused on were dendritic cells, T cells and macrophages. Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting cells that can act as messengers between the innate and the adaptive immune systems. They can activate effector cells, such as T cells, when they detect ‘suspicious’ antigens in the body. Macrophages are phagocytic cells that can engulf and digest infected cells or bacteria.

Research on tracking cell migration has become increasingly important, both to understand biological processes at a fundamental level, and to manipulate immune cells as form of therapy. Trafficking of immune cells, in particular, is essential both for their function, and in new advanced therapies, such as cell-based cancer therapies using engineered immune cells or for drugs such as checkpoint inhibitors.

In vivo noninvasive imaging

We often lack a mechanistic understanding of the complex processes around cell function in vivo. The use of noninvasive imaging to study cell populations is therefore necessary. At Wageningen University & Research, in particular, with its unique, wide range of animal and plant species, noninvasive imaging can truly come into its own.

Prof. Srinivas also highlighted the multi-disciplinary nature of the research of CBI and emphasized the importance of building new collaborations. Srinivas: ‘Imaging for cell tracking encompasses several fields: both our research and education programmes cover broad areas of immunology, and we are actively looking to build new collaborations and to strengthen existing ones’.

Immunology in the spotlight

From an academic perspective, the pandemic has brought immunology into the spotlight. Still, while the functioning of the immune system remains mysterious, and we are constantly learning new things about it, so research will continue in the years to come. To develop the necessary expertise in this area, the researchers at CBI will work closely with other WUR groups and a variety of stakeholders.

Mangala Srinivas’ ambition is to better understand the immune system using noninvasive techniques, while being a responsible scientist and mentor. For her, this means ‘combining research with a responsibility to improve the situation for future scientists’. Together with the Wageningen Young Academy and the Young Academy of Europe she aims to address complex issues such as open science, rewards and recognition, diversity and inclusion, and fundamental vs. applied research, in order to pursue equity in academia.