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Allen Institute Announces New Division Dedicated To Studying Human Immune System


By Benjamin Ross

December 13, 2018 | The Allen Institute announced a new division, the Allen Institute for Immunology, which will be dedicated to studying the human immune system. The new division will be funded through a $125 million donation from the late Paul Allen. The Institute plans to build this division with 70 in-house scientists from within the existing divisions, the Allen Institute for Brain Science and the Allen Institute for Cell Science.

The announcement represents a move toward a clinical translation bend for the Institute, something Allan Jones, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Allen Institute addressed during a press briefing yesterday.

“This represents a difference in the really basic science-focused efforts we’ve had in brain and cell science to date,” Jones said. “We’re really excited about it... One of the beautiful aspects of this is that you can go into humans and you can really start to see the immune system in action, and you can assay people over time that we really don’t have access to for the brain.”

In its initial launch, the Institute of Immunology will focus on two cancers for study, multiple myeloma and melanoma. It will also look into autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis and Chron’s disease.

Thomas Bumol, the Executive Director for the Allen Institute for Immunology, said the thought process behind selecting these cancers and disorders required planning out strategies with achievable short-, mid-, and long-term impact.

“We really wanted some patients that were receiving immunotherapy and immune-oncology drugs,” said Bumol. “Obviously melanoma’s a very immune-responsive tumor, and yet we really want to understand immune capacity in that context.”

The immune system is complex and the ultimate goal of this new division is to shorten the time it takes from lab to bedside, Bumol said.

“Researchers have been studying the immune system for decades,” said Bumol. “But we don’t yet understand its dynamic balance. How does [the immune system] shift when our bodies encounter different environments? How does it change when we age? What goes wrong when disease hits?”

The Allen Institute for Immunology will tackle these questions by first looking at the immune systems of healthy volunteers.

“The goal is to understand what a healthy immune system looks like, how we can measure that, and how the immune system changes over time,” Bumol said. “A long-term study of both patients and volunteers like this has never been done before, and it’s what the field is sorely lacking.”

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