Jenny P. Ting, PhD, the Kenan Professor of Genetics at the UNC School of Medicine, director of the Center for Translational Immunology, and co-director of UNC Lineberger’s Immunology Program, is being honored with the 2021 ICIS-Pfizer Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research in recognition of her outstanding discoveries in the fields of immunology, molecular biology, genomics, and microbiology, and especially for her observations regarding the control of immunity which impact a wide variety of diseases.
Combining her knowledge of cytokine regulation and function with state-of-the-art approaches to unravel the immunologic basis for inflammation in infection, inflammatory diseases and cancer, Ting has elevated worldwide research on interferons and cytokines, most notably through her seminal work in NLRs that in many ways started the field of NOD-like receptor proteins.
As an active member of the cytokine community working on various aspects of cytokine biology since 1984, Ting has focused her research the past 25 years on understanding how cytokines such as interleukin-1 and type I Interferons are regulated during immune activation. This includes how these cytokines in turn regulate the immune response to a plethora of diseases including inflammatory diseases, autoimmunity, metabolic diseases, neuroinflammation, cancer and infection by bacterial and viral pathogens.
Her work has focused on the events that lead to the development of protective immunity as well as to understanding how cytokine dysregulation leads to an array of chronic inflammatory diseases. While most of her early research focused on the regulation of cytokine-induced major histocompatibility complex class II and the function of immune genes in brain glial cells, her pioneering work on pattern recognition receptors, especially the role of the NOD like receptor superfamily as sensors of microbial infection and sterile inflammation is perhaps her most significant and impactful contributions to the field of immunology.
This body of work coupled with her curiosity, generosity, and mentoring skills, has led to other equally path-breaking observations relevant to cytokine biology and human diseases.
Her lab was amongst the first to describe the NLR family of proteins. These studies have been extended in many different ways to define NLRs and other novel intracellular sensors that respond to viral and intracellular bacterial infections. Since her early work identifying the CATERPILLER family (NLR family), Ting has worked steadfastly to identify the molecular mechanisms regulating these proteins and their ability to induce inflammasome formation, regulate interferon and inflammatory cytokines, impact microbiota and alter immunometabolism.
Her lab has also shown the relevance of some of the NLRs in adaptive immune cells to alter T effector cells. These efforts have led to a large body of literature from her lab linking NLRs to the regulation of both inflammasome NLRs and non-inflammasome NLRs in a wide range of disorders. This body of work has provided compelling data to suggest that therapeutic targeting of NLRP3 and related inflammasomes could be a viable therapeutic approach for the treatment of a wide range of inflammatory diseases. Indeed, several biotech companies are exploring this issue now.
Ting will give her ICIS-Pfizer Award Presentation, “The all-encompassing importance of innate immune receptors,” at Cytokines 2021 Hybrid Meeting on Oct. 17, 2021.