How the 3IQ research group is enhancing innovative research happening at Queen’s
The Infection, Immunity and Inflammation Research Group at Queen’s (3IQ) is a multidisciplinary team of faculty members from across the university. Connected by their desire to eradicate pathogens and lessen the severity of disease, this group of researchers aims to improve our understanding of disease development and inform innovative new treatment methods.
This feature story was originally published by the Faculty of Health Sciences here.
Representing several disciplines and departments from across Queen’s, including the Departments of Biomedical and Molecular Sciences (DBMS), Medicine, Biology and Chemical Engineering, 3IQ’s membership totals 30 researchers. Three of the group’s many prominent faculty members are Drs. Katrina Gee, Qingling Duan, and Madhuri Koti. All well-established researchers in DBMS, the 3IQ research group has enhanced their research by providing them with a forum where they can exchange ideas, collaborate on projects and share their expertise. Each of these women is at the helm of innovative research that lays the foundation to reduce if not eradicate certain diseases. At the core of each of their research projects are the topics of infection, immunity, and inflammation.
Dr. Katrina Gee is a Director of 3IQ. Through her research she is studying how the immune system functions in response to infection. Looking specifically at viral infections such as influenza and the dengue virus, Dr. Gee is trying to better understand how these severe infections can impact our innate immune system, or the immune system’s “first line of defense” as she describes it.
“Ultimately what I’m trying to see is how our immune response can be tweaked and improved,” says Dr. Gee. “A big component of my research is exploring how this innate immune response can often be inflammatory. This inflammation is controlled by proteins called cytokines, and I believe that controlling these proteins can help us moderate inflammation and ensure that our immune system responds well to infection.”
Dr. Gee is quick to note that without the research group, much of her research would not be where is it today. “3IQ has created a perfect environment for inter lab collaboration,” says Dr. Gee. “Each person in this group has a unique area of expertise, and the collaboration that exists between members has allowed us to design projects and earn funding that we would never be able to on our own.”
A newer addition to 3IQ, Dr. Qingling Duan’s research lab is also centered around collaboration. As the Queen’s National Scholar in Bioinformatics, Dr. Duan is cross-appointed to DBMS and the School of Computing. Since beginning at Queen’s, Dr. Duan’s lab has had the opportunity to lead the genetic analysis of a national cohort: the CHILD Study. Her lab’s specific focus is to study the genetic and non-genetic risk factors of asthma, an inflammatory disease which affects 15% of Canadian children.
“We are working with a large multi-disciplinary team of scientists from across the country,” says Dr. Duan. “The CHILD Cohort recruited mothers while they were pregnant and their babies have been followed since birth, through a home visit 3-6 months postpartum, numerous questionnaires and a series of clinical visits, which were conducted every couple of years for health assessments and collection of biospecimens. The major aim of our research is to identify early determinants of childhood diseases such as asthma and allergies. A lot of the diseases that we see in adults and in children have risk factors that are present at birth (e.g. congenital) or during the perinatal period. If we’re able to identify the kids who are at higher risk of developing asthma in later life, we can intervene early, to curb their lifelong risk and reduce the burden of these chronic diseases.”
Like both of her colleagues, Dr. Madhuri Koti is striving to improve the effectiveness of treatments for disease. A veterinarian with a PhD in Molecular Immunology, Dr. Koti’s lab at the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, is currently focused on gaining a better understanding of the role of the tumor microenvironment in progression and treatment response in ovarian and bladder cancers. Her research program is funded by CIHR, CFI, industry, Queen’s and OMRIS. Through linking the genetic and immune profiles of patient tumors, Dr. Koti hopes to gain a better understanding of why a patient is responding a certain way to the therapy that they are receiving. One area of her research looks specifically at studying the host and tumor immunological profiles of bladder cancer, one of the most expensive and management-intensive diseases to treat.
“Bladder cancer is particularly interesting to me because we are just beginning to learn about the complexities of the immunological differences in patient tumors specifically those that associate with patient sex and age” says Dr. Koti. “There are different types of bladder cancer and they all need to be treated differently. Bladder cancer varies by age and gender, with men and older individuals being more likely to develop bladder cancer. For those women who are diagnosed with the most prevalent type of bladder cancer, we find that they typically respond poorly to the commonly used BCG immunotherapy. This is despite the fact that women exhibit stronger immune responses than men. BCG therapy that was first established at Queen’s in 1976 by Dr. Alvaro Morales and has remained the gold standard treatment practiced across the world since then. My research is all about understanding how we can use information from such variable immunological responses and data to inform treatment decisions and develop alternatives.”
With support from clinical and basic science colleagues at KHSC and Queen’s University, Dr. Koti has been able to facilitate collaborations between a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Queen’s and at other institutions across the country. Together they are working towards better understanding how these factors alter the bladder’s immune microenvironment and in turn improve cancer treatment. Dr. Koti hopes that this will lead to a more personalized approach to care where treatment is tailored towards specific patients.