PhD student wins award for ‘immunological memory’ research

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Source: Upstate Medical University

Upstate PhD student Kevin Kenderes specializes in memory.

Not the kind of memory associated with recall, but the “immunological memory” of B cells within the body that fight off infection.

Kevin, who will defend his PhD dissertation this summer, received an award in May from the American Association of Immunology (AAI) for his research into the behavior of IgM (Immunoglobulin) B cells.

He presented his work at the AAI annual meeting in Washington D.C. in May. The honor also included a $500 travel award.

“I’ve presented at smaller meetings, but this is the first time I presented at a large meeting,” Kevin said. “I was pretty excited about it. This is the immunology meeting.”

Based on the abstract he submitted, Kevin was selected to give a 15-minute talk in addition to a 90-minute poster presentation. He was joined in D.C. by his faculty research advisor, Gary Winslow, PhD, professor of Microbiology & Immunology, and other students in Dr. Winslow’s lab.

“There were some good questions,” Kevin said of audience responses to his project, which will be the crux of his PhD dissertation.

Kevin said the study of the immune system is fascinating, because it’s key to the “whole interplay” of how the human body stays in balance – how infections occur, and how the body’s cells rally to fight against infection.

“You can see the direct application, what it’s going to mean to your health and to public health,” he said. “My work focuses on when you get infected with a disease, how the generated immune response protects you from getting re-infected.”

Specifically, Kevin said, he explores how the cells respond to an invading bacterial pathogen, “and how they differentiate either into effector cells that produce antibodies to neutralize infection, or into long-term memory cells.”

What Kevin found in his research into the relatively uncommon (and tick-transmitted) bacterial pathogen, Ehrlichia muris, is that IgM B cells have a more nuanced response to infection than the classically studied IgG Immunoglobulin B cells.

(IgG cells are the more common antibody, while IgM cells are the body’s first responders to neutralize bacteria and viruses.)

“Usually memory B cells have a fast response, but with IgM cells, they’re not necessarily fast, but they have more flexibility,” Kevin said. “They generate more antibodies and generate more IgM memory cells.”

His research satisfied his passion for a deeper understanding of how memory cells function, but there’s more work to be done.

“One of the big questions is with memory cells, what’s required to maintain them long term?” Kevin said. “Do they need to receive certain survival signals?”

That question could be tackled by other students in Dr. Winslow’s lab — much like Kevin’s project spun off research by former lab member Amber Papillion, PhD, now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Alabama.

“There’s always the next level of knowledge,” Kevin said. “You think you understand something, and there’s always the next thing.”

About Kevin:

He’s from Endicott, NY, and graduated from the University of Scranton with a degree in biochemistry and cell & molecular biology.

After defending his dissertation this summer, he’ll concentrate on a career in industry.

He married a year ago, and he and his wife, Rebecca, have two dogs and three cats. Rebecca is a Physician Assistant.

Kevin’s sister and Rebecca’s sister were roommates at Marywood University in Scranton and introduced them.

He’s a fan of the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles, thanks in large part to family members from Scranton. He’s also into hiking, golf and video games.

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