University College London (UCL)
Royal Free Hospital
The Walker Lab is based at the newly founded Institute of Immunity and Transplantation on the Royal Free campus of University College London (UCL). The group is exploring how CD4 T cell mediated immune responses are initiated and regulated. Our principle research goal is to understand why immune regulation fails in certain individuals resulting in destructive autoimmune responses against self-tissues. We have a particular interest in Type 1 Diabetes, a condition in which T cells attack and destroy the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. It is now clear that we all possess T cells capable of causing autoimmune diseases (such as Type 1 Diabetes) but in most people these cells are kept in check by immune regulatory mechanisms. The latter include complex threshold-setting mechanisms that control how easy it is to trigger immune cell activation, as well as active immuno-suppression evoked by a specialised subset of cells termed regulatory T cells.
The Walker group uses a broad range of in vivo and in vitro approaches to probe immune cell function and unravel novel cellular and molecular pathways. A key priority is to work at the interface between basic science and clinical medicine, obtaining research data in model systems and verifying its relevance using patient samples. The latter approach is supported by strong collaborative links with Dr Miranda Rosenthal, Consultant in Diabetes at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust.
We believe that if we can understand how the immune system is normally regulated, and pinpoint how this has failed in individuals with autoimmune diseases, this will pave the way for rational intervention strategies.
A fluorescent microscopy picture of an Islet of Langerhans under attack from the immune system. Blue staining is insulin, green cells are leukocytes surrounding the insulin producing islet and red cells are those cells expressing Ki67 (a marker of cell proliferation).