T cells are essential white blood cells from the adaptive immune system – they protect us from pathogens and also kill tumour cells. In contrast to all other blood cells that develop in the bone marrow where also the hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) reside, T cell development takes place within the thymus.
A decreased number of T cells, a condition known as T cell lymphopenia, causes a life-threatening setting that for instance arises as an important side effect during chemo- and radiotherapy. Although this treatment aims to kill the tumour cells, it also destroys all rapidly dividing cells, including T cells. Although HSC transplantation can restore the immune system, the recovery of T cells is often slow and very inefficient, particularly in older patients. This renders them highly sensitive to normally harmless pathogens, and this is a significant cause of morbidity.
As a medical doctor with a strong interest in almost everything related to biology, it is important to me to work on a topic with potential clinical implications. My research aims to get a better understanding of the function and the molecular characteristics of a rare subset of precursor cells that immigrates from the bone marrow to seed the thymus. Since little knowledge is available on these thymus seeding precursors (TSP), I intend to use single-cell approaches to better characterize human TSP populations and will investigate their clinical potential.