New Discoveries at Walter Reed

For over ten years, Dr. Sarah J. Schlesinger has been actively engaged in HIV/AIDS and HIV vaccine research. She is currently conducting clinical trials to test a new vaccine called ADMVA, designed to stimulate immune responses and thereby prevent HIV from ever being contracted. A graduate of Wellesley College and Rush Medical College, Schlesinger has been interested in medical science since she was a teenager. As a high school student attending a lecture at Rockefeller University, she boldly asked scientist Ralph Steinman for a job in his laboratory.

Schlesinger worked in Steinman's lab just a few years after he and Zanvil Cohn published their famous discovery of dendritic cells. She then went on to head her own dendritic cell lab at Walter Reed Hospital from 1990 to 2002. With new knowledge about the ability of dendritic cells to orchestrate the body's immune response, Schlesinger and her colleagues are attempting to develop customized immune therapies to target specific infections such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and influenza; certain cancers; and autoimmune diseases.
  • Transcript


Sarah Schlesinger: What became clear was dendritic cells orchestrate immunity, so they are the center of the immune response. They pick up any foreign material, whether it be a bacteria, whether it be pollen to which you’re allergic. Probably most of them spend their time picking up your own self, showing those antigens to the rest of the body. They pick up the antigens. They process it, which means they sort of chew it up, and then they display it on their surface with several other molecules. And that display allows the T-cell lymphocytes and the B-cell lymphocytes to see the antigen. So the only way that a lymphocyte can respond to an antigen is if a dendritic cell processes it and shows it to it.

So because of this concept, it became clear that to make a vaccine work, you need to get to a dendritic cell. In all likelihood, more than in all likelihood, almost with certainty, all vaccines that work, work by getting to dendritic cells. We just don’t know how. So since we have been working on HIV vaccines, well, now for 25 years, but then for 15 or whatever, and the regular, the sort of empiric methods that had been tried before were not working, the notion that one should engage in rational vaccine design, and directly target dendritic cells, began to gain favor. And so I began to work on that end of vaccine design at the Walter Reed.


Recorded on: June 10, 2008