Studying unusual immunodeficiency

Yenan Bryceson researches certain types of primary immuno-deficiencies that lead to overactive parts of the immune system and severe illness. The goal is to understand human immunological diseases, establish accurate diagnostics and contribute to improved treatments.

Portrait of Yenan Bryceson in the lab.
Photo: Ulf Sirborn

What are you researching?

“My research concerns certain forms of immunodeficiency that make people, usually children, very ill from infections that others will normally manage without encountering sig­nificant problems. It is essential that these children obtain rapid and ac­curate diagnostics so that they receive the proper treatment when they end up in hospital. Basically, the condi­tions can be due to malfunction in certain types of white blood cells that otherwise kill infected or malignant cells. This results in other parts of the immune system being overac­tive, which in the most severe form of disease leads to a life-threatening hyperinflammatory situation.”

What are you trying to find out?

“Mostly we try to identify the genetic causes of the disease, along with methods to develop better functional diagnostics. In recent years, several new genes and mutations behind severe forms of these life-threatening diseases have been found, and our research has contributed to those advances. Still, a lot remains to be done. We continue with the work of searching for more genes and studying the mechanisms for how mutations found in patients mess up the immune system. Collaboration with researchers in other parts of the world is really important to us, partly because these conditions are rare. In complementary efforts, we also systemically chart the molecular mechanisms surrounding cytotoxic leukocytes in healthy people – know­ledge that might help harnessing these cells for immunotherapy against cancer.”

What do you hope to achieve in the long run?

“We want to contribute to better knowledge about why these children become ill, how healthcare providers can quickly make a definite diag­nosis, and in the long-term better alternatives for treatment. Presently, the most seriously ill children need to undergo stem cell transplantation, which cures the condition but at the same time entails a risk of serious complications. In the future, based on detailed understanding of the human immune system, I hope more patients can be treated with immunomodu­latory drugs or tailored gene-editing techniques.”

Text: Anders Nilsson, first published in From Cell to Society 2020.

Yenan Bryceson

Professor of Translational Immunology at the Department of Medicine, Huddinge

Yenan Bryceson was born in 1976 in Dar es-Salaam, Tanzania, and in 2000 graduated from the University of Oslo, Norway, with a master’s degree in molecular and cell biology. He did his doctoral studies at KI and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, USA, within the framework of KI’s and NIH’s Graduate Partnerships Programme, and his dissertation was presented in 2008.

After completing his studies in medicine during 2007–2009 and performing postdoc work in 2008–2010, Bryceson has been leading a research team at KI since 2011. Since 2012, he has also held a part-time professorship at the University of Bergen in Norway.

Yenan Bryceson was appointed Pro­fessor of Translational Immunology at Karolinska Institutet on March 1, 2020.

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