The Gumperz lab studies human innate T lymphocytes, with a particular focus on a subset called Natural Killer T (NKT) cells. NKT cells are able to affect the functions of many other types of immune cells, and in so doing they can markedly influence the outcome of immune responses. Because of this, and because they are activated by conserved antigens, NKT cells are of interest as a human lymphocyte population that could be harnessed clinically for immunotherapeutic strategies.
What interests us about NKT cells is that they can become activated by self lipids, which means that they can perform functions even when there is no infectious challenge, and they can amplify immune responses without requiring the presence of a specific foreign antigen. One of the central questions my lab is addressing is to understand how this autoreactivity contributes to inflammatory responses and immune regulation. We are investigating these questions at the molecular and cellular levels, and also in the context of larger immunological processes such as graft-vs-host disease that occurs after transplantation of hematopoietic stem cells, and immune responses during Epstein-Barr virus infection.