Carmen Gerlach

Wallenberg Academy Fellow 2017

Medicine

Dr. Carmen Gerlach, Harvard Medical School, USA

Nominated by
Karolinska Institutet

More effective vaccines and therapies against cancer

The body’s immune system protects us from infections and combats cancer cells. Wallenberg Academy Fellow Carmen Gerlach will investigate specific groups of immune cells, CD8 T cells, to better understand how they work. The long-term aim is to be able to design new and better vaccines and more effective immunotherapies for cancer.

CD8 T cells are a vital group of cells in the body’s immune system. Some function as a type of army that eliminates infected cells from the body so that the infection does not spread. Others form long-lived memory cells; their role is to remember the microbes that have invaded the body. If a virus or a bacterium tries to infect the body again, these memory cells are ready to fight the new infection right away, often even before the infected person feels sick, and at the same time these memory cells produce more memory cells to protect against further future infections.

Dr. Carmen Gerlach from Harvard Medical School is studying CD8 T cells in detail, and has found a new type of memory cell. She will continue to investigate which signals are necessary for the development of different types of CD8 T cells and exactly what function they have in the body.

Current vaccines primarily activate cells that produce antibodies. Carmen Gerlach will try to develop knowledge that can be used to design vaccines that also make the right types of CD8 T cells. The hope is that such vaccines could provide protection from diseases for which current vaccines do no work. Another aim is to optimize immunotherapies for cancer so they become more powerful. As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow, Carmen Gerlach will move her activities to Karolinska Institutet.

Photo: Marcus Marcetic