The Power of Dendritic Cells

Sarah Schlesinger: Well, I came to work with dendritic cells purely through circumstance. I was interested in cells. I knew that, and I don’t know why. That’s always been the level at which my interest is, and it’s like a favorite color. It’s just how it is. Some people like molecules. Some people like proteins. But I’ve always liked the living cell. I think I take great pleasure in just watching them. You can put them under the microscope and see what’s going on, and I like that ability.

I like the direct state of being able to visualize them myself. But as I mentioned, I came to work in the laboratory of Dr. Zanvil Cohn under Dr. Ralph Steinman, which was a laboratory that worked on macrophages, which were a cell that’s related to dendritic cells. Ralph had just discovered dendritic cells. So I learned how to make them.

 

Question: How do dendritic cells relate to HIV and AIDS?

 

Sarah Schlesinger: It was the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, and Ralph and his colleague, Melissa Pope, had demonstrated that dendritic cells, particularly when mixed with T-cell lymphocytes, were the most fertile field for the replication of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. It was very controversial work, because it had been demonstrated in vitro, or in the test tube, and nobody had been able to demonstrate it in a person. One of the problems with any ADIS research, and frankly, as we discussed vaccines, there’s a problem with vaccines, is there’s no good animal model.

So you couldn’t really demonstrate it in an animal, but that didn’t mean much, because it was a different disease. So I, with colleagues, there was a collection of tissues that had been assembled for diagnostic purposes, in which I was able to show that there were dendritic cell, T-cell syncissia [ph?], or where these cells got together, and there was abundant, tremendously abundant HIV replication, and this was in 12 people. So that was an important discovery that was important because of how it fit with Ralph’s bigger work. That led to a publication in Science, which was for the record my only publication in Science, but was a very big deal. And that really changed my career, because at the time I was working at the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the work came to the attention of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

People were beginning to be interested in dendritic cells. And because I had the ability to work with them, and they’re very hard to work with, because as I said they’re hens teeth rare [ph?]and they like to die. They’re post mitotic, which means they don’t divide, so anything you do to them just makes them die. And because I had this association with Ralph, they asked for me to come and work at the Walter Reed on dendritic cells and HIV, because people were beginning to realize that it was important both in HIV pathogenesis, and would subsequently come to realize that it was important HIV vaccine design. So the division of retro virology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is charged with developing a vaccine to prevent HIV.

 

Recorded on: June 10, 2008

 

Schlesinger and her colleagues discovered that dendritic cells are a "fertile field for the replication of HIV."

​There are two kinds of failure – but only one is honorable

Malcolm Gladwell teaches "Get over yourself and get to work" for Big Think Edge.

Big Think Edge
  • Learn to recognize failure and know the big difference between panicking and choking.
  • At Big Think Edge, Malcolm Gladwell teaches how to check your inner critic and get clear on what failure is.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Apparently even NASA is wrong about which planet is closest to Earth

Three scientists publish a paper proving that Mercury, not Venus, is the closest planet to Earth.

Strange Maps
  • Earth is the third planet from the Sun, so our closest neighbor must be planet two or four, right?
  • Wrong! Neither Venus nor Mars is the right answer.
  • Three scientists ran the numbers. In this YouTube video, one of them explains why our nearest neighbor is... Mercury!
Keep reading Show less

Why is 18 the age of adulthood if the brain can take 30 years to mature?

Neuroscience research suggests it might be time to rethink our ideas about when exactly a child becomes an adult.

Mind & Brain
  • Research suggests that most human brains take about 25 years to develop, though these rates can vary among men and women, and among individuals.
  • Although the human brain matures in size during adolescence, important developments within the prefrontal cortex and other regions still take pace well into one's 20s.
  • The findings raise complex ethical questions about the way our criminal justice systems punishes criminals in their late teens and early 20s.
Keep reading Show less