Barrow Neurological Institute neuroimmunology fellow receives $135,000 fellowship award

Ruolan Liu, M.D., Ph.D., a post-doctoral fellow at Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, received a three-year career development fellowship of $135,000 from the Muscular Dystrophy Association. This prestigious award will fund Dr. Liu's investigation of natural-killer-T (NKT) cell treatment for Myasthenia Gravis (MG) and other autoimmune diseases.

Since joining Barrow's Neuroimmunology Research Laboratory in 2004, Dr. Liu has focused on examining several strategies for treating MG and Multiple Sclerosis (MS). In her initial experiments, Dr. Liu discovered that an agent found in sea sponges can activate NKT cells, which are specialized cells of the immune system. Further research showed that the agent enabled NKT cells to produce a protein that allowed the cells to suppress MG when induced experimentally in mice. These research findings were published in December 2005 in The Journal of Immunology.

With the Muscular Dystrophy Association fellowship award, Dr. Liu will work over the next three years to identify key elements for optimizing therapy that will inhibit MG. Her work will build on her previous successful results with NKT cells.

"Dr. Liu has uncovered a previously unrecognized mechanism underlying several important routes through which the immune system can modulate MG, an incapacitating disease of humans," says Fu-Dong Shi, M.D., Ph.D., a staff scientist in Barrow's Neurology Department. "Her discoveries will pave the way for novel therapies based on targeting NKT cells to control disease. This fellowship award from the Muscular Dystrophy Association will prepare Dr. Liu for an independent career as a neuroimmunologist."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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