VP&S Launches New Initiative on Human Tissue Immunity and Disease

A new initiative on human tissue immunity and disease will be launched this month and will be based in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons. Donna Farber, PhD, the George Humphreys II Professor of Surgical Sciences and Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, will be the director of this initiative, which will have a collaboration with the Department of Surgery.

Headshot photo of Donna Farber, PhD
Donna Farber

Farber’s research is focused on understanding immune responses at tissue sites, in health and disease. While most studies on the human immune system are limited to cells in the blood, immune response are initiated and maintained in tissues throughout the body. In addition to residing in specialized lymphoid organs, immune cells also reside in mucosal and barrier sites, exocrine tissues, and organs, including the brain. Defining how immune cells function in these tissues is central to understanding how the immune response provides protection, maintains tissue homeostasis, and contributes to disease pathology. Farber’s group has established a unique human tissue resource and a novel sample bank by working in collaboration with surgeons and organ procurement organizations to collect blood and tissue samples from human organ donors. Her group has used these samples to generate novel “maps” of the human immune system and reveal new insights into how anti-viral immune responses are generated and maintained in tissues over a human lifespan.

The immediate goals of this new initiative are to foster innovative studies on the human immune system through use of high-dimensional profiling, imaging, testing, and validation of new molecular targets and hypotheses generated from studies in humans and mouse models. The long-term goal of the initiative is to generate a new baseline of knowledge about the healthy, human immune system from which to forge new advances that will help reveal underlying mechanisms of diseases such as autoimmunity and responses to infection.