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(L-R) Matt Fair and Dr. Luis Montaner

What’s Blood Got to Do with It?

Mathew Fair, research assistant in the Montaner Lab, utilizes donor blood for the experimental controls he runs, which are pivotal to advancing HIV-cure research. 

“Control experiments are very important for seeing what the environment is like under normal circumstances,” said Fair. “If my control doesn’t work then I have no idea if my experiment will work. I need to know how a healthy person’s blood will respond in my experimental conditions in comparison with somebody who’s been infected with HIV.”

Fair also takes immune cells from fresh donor blood and adds them to cells which are coated with parts of the HIV virus to mimic an infection. He then tries to make immune cells “see” the HIV-infected cells using compounds created at The Wistar Institute.

“At the cellular level, the human body is vast,” said Fair. “In the case of HIV, the virus is very good at “hiding” from immune cells, so the immune system can’t identify all of the infected cells to eradicate the disease. But, if you can create a better interaction between immune and infected cells — by creating different compounds that can help join them together — we might improve the chances that the immune system will see an infected cell and kill it, which would help us eliminate HIV.”

Meanwhile in the Gabrilovich Lab, associate staff scientist Michela Perego, Ph.D., studies a type of immune cell called neutrophils, which are the immune system’s first responder cells that arrive at the site of an infection. Perego depends on fresh donor blood to carry out experiments designed to better understand the conditions that make neutrophils — which normally protect us — become capable of supporting cancer cells when they get into close proximity with them.

“It’s absolutely important I have donated blood to isolate this specific population of cells,” said Perego. “The aim of my work is to study how neutrophils interact with cancer cells and how they can drive the cancer to grow back even after it was initially shut down by chemotherapy, surgery, or the like.”

Perego’s research supports the larger focus of the Gabrilovich Lab that is identifying different aspects of myeloid cell biology and immune responses to cancer with the future intent of creating next generation therapeutic strategies. 

“Wistar has a strong history of creating life-altering medicine such as our rabies vaccines for people and animals,” said Fair. “To get to that end-product scientists back in the day needed many healthy blood donors, today’s research is no different”

If you are interested in giving blood to support important scientific discoveries that impact human health, please reach out to Dorothy Lambert at (215) 898-3875.