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Researcher Takes Close Look at Antibodies that Break Bad

Jul 6, 2021
5 min Read
Patrick Swanson, PhD, and a lab assistant doing research

Those antibodies we heard so much about during the COVID-19 pandemic — the good guys who wage war against all sort of infections — carry an air of mystery in the world of biology. Where do they come from, exactly, and why do they sometimes rebel and cause autoimmune diseases?

These are questions Patrick Swanson, PhD, is probing this summer.

Swanson is director of the Graduate Program in Creighton’s Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology. Research in his laboratory focuses broadly on understanding the genetic origins of antibodies and illuminating the processes that control the emergence of “self-reactive” antibodies, which can target and initiate damage to healthy cells and tissues.

Currently, Swanson is investigating mechanisms that regulate the proteins responsible for “cutting and pasting” DNA together to form functional antibody genes. Other research in his lab is using advanced DNA sequencing technology, among other approaches, to understand what happens when self-reactive antibodies are generated and mechanisms to correct this problem are blocked.

“I hope to apply sequencing technology to characterize B cells in human autoimmune diseases to identify key signatures that mark them as self-reactive,” Swanson says. “Such information could be used to devise strategies to selectively remove them while leaving ‘protective’ B cells behind to help fight infection.”

The importance of Swanson’s research projects has drawn support from intramural and extramural grants, including two recent grants from the National Institutes of Health.