This month, The American Society for Histocompatibility and Immunogenetics (ASHI) held its 40th annual meeting in Denver. ASHI was created to address a growing interest in research based around the HLA supergene, and through the years, ASHI has become a crucible for numerous initiatives that have changed the field of immunogenetics.
This year’s meeting covered a spectrum of topics ranging from supercomputers to narcolepsy to the ethics of live organ donation. And while many of the ideas were brand new and many of the innovations were made public for the first time in Denver, there are some elements of ASHI’s meeting that seemed very familiar.
One of these was Dr. Curtis McMurtrey.
Dr. McMurtrey is Director of Epitope Discovery at one of our portfolio companies, Pure MHC, a subsidiary of Pure Protein, LLC. He is one of the most pre-eminent researchers in immunogenetics. And if you’ve ever owned a cat, he is someone who may make it easy for felines and humans to live together.
Because he may have found a new way to counter Toxoplasma gondii.
Innovative Tactics For A Worldwide Battle
T. gondii is a parasite carried by domestic cats that can be fatal to a pregnant woman’s growing fetus, to HIV/AIDS patients, and to other immune compromised people such as transplant recipients. T.gondii is extremely common, with as much as a third of the world’s human population carrying a toxoplasm infection. T.gondii can cause encephalitis and has also been linked to ADHD, OCD disorders, and schizophrenia.
Dr. McMurtrey and his team are leaders in a new field called Ligandomics. HLA molecules have a small groove in the top where a small piece of protein—a ligand—from a pathogen infecting the cell binds and signals the immune system to attack. Ligandomics is the study of all the ligands that are presented by all the HLA molecules on a cell of interest.
Dr. McMurtrey and his group developed a new method called Deep Ligand Sequencing (DLS), using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry equipment and Pure Protein’s proprietary soluble HLA gene library, to discover over 200 novel, immune-response triggering HLA peptide ligands from T. gondii. These peptide ligands provide opportunities for the development of vaccines against the parasite and immunotherapy treatments that can be used in patients whose immune systems can’t fight T. gondii off.
Dr. McMurtrey’s work demonstrates just how far-reaching Ligandomics can be in biotech. And if you’ve ever had to give up a beloved cat because a family member is pregnant and you couldn’t risk a toxoplasmosis infection, you can also see how close to home his work can have an impact.
Four Times. (And Counting.)
At this year’s ASHI meeting, Dr. McMurtrey was presented with ASHI’s Top Scholar Award for this research. This is the fourth time that he has won this award for his work at PTS.
That’s more than any other scientist in the four-decade history of the ASHI. That’s why he was very familiar to anyone attending this month’s meeting.
Dr. McMurtrey isn’t done yet. Ligandomics is a fledgling field, and one that offers plenty of potential. We are very interested in seeing where Dr. McMurtrey and the other great minds at Pure Transplant Solutions are going to take it next.
What do you want to build today?