In industrialized countries the incidence of inflammatory diseases such as Crohns disease, multiple sclerosis, type II diabetes and allergies has risen to 35-40% of the population. People in these countries do not often experience infectious disease due to high hygiene, current vaccinations strategies and medical practices. As a consequence the immune system is insufficiently educated leading to abnormal responses. In our research group we focus on understanding and developing strategies to prevent or combat autoimmune diseases and allergies by (re-)educating the immune system. Our three main research lines are described below.
1. Lessons from parasitic worms. Parasitic worms are master manipulators of the immune system by secreting a variety of proteins. Our aim is to identify these proteins, assess their effect in reducing or steering inflammation and evaluate possibilities for clinical use.
2. Production of immunomodulatory proteins in plants. The plant is an excellent host for the expression of heterologous proteins. We therefore investigate the possibilities to express helminth-secreted proteins that modulate the immune system in tobacco plants. The aim is to use these potential therapeutic proteins to improve or modulate the functioning of our immune system.
3. Helminthisation of the N-glycosylation pathway in plants. Many helminth-secreted proteins are N-glycosylated and often carry typical N-glycan structures. These N-glycan structures have been shown to play an important role in protein activity. Therefore we investigate the possibilities to engineer the N-glycosylation pathway of plants in order to synthesize these helminth-like N-glycan structures. Also, we try to identify and characterise yet unknown helminth glycosyltransferases. Production of N-glycan variants of glycoproteins allows us to study the role of N-glycans types on protein function and interaction with immune cells. For more information on one of the proteins we are currently working on see http://help-t2d.nl.