Nicholas Zwang, MD - John Merrill Grant in Transplantation (2018)

By ASN Staff

Name: Nicholas Zwang, MD

Institution: The University of Illinois at Chicago

Grant: John Merrill Grant in Transplantation (2018)

Project Title: Quantifying signaling and activation mechanisms in human transitional B cells
 

How would you sum up your research in one sentence?

  • We are trying to find what makes transitional B cells (TrBs) “tick” so that we can preserve or promote their suppressor functions in transplantation.


Provide a brief overview of the research you will conduct with help from the grant.

  • Transitional B cells are a naïve B cell subset that may help prevent transplant rejection. The mechanisms by which human TrBs are activated to exert regulatory activity or differentiate away from this phenotype are not defined and may contrast with those of mature B cell subsets. The overall project hypothesis is that quantifying the mechanisms of TrB activation and maturation could yield pharmacologic strategies to promote or spare TrB function and survival while inhibiting mature B cell activation in transplantation. The hypothesis for Specific Aim 1 is that T cell-derived factors via STAT3 signaling mediate activation but not maturation of human TrBs. The hypothesis for Specific Aim 2 is that inhibition of BCR signaling prevents apoptosis of TrBs and diminishes mature B cell activation.


What inspired you to focus your research in this area?

  • I have been fortunate to work with inspiring patients and mentors. The strength our patients show through adversity is humbling. As is the faith they put in us to care for precious resources: their transplanted kidneys. My work with these patients in the clinic drives me to find better treatments for them. My mentors, especially Dr. Laurence Turka, have taught me the critical thinking skills and scientific reasoning skills to achieve these goals.  


What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?

  • I hope that my studies will help us prevent or lead to new cures for rejection. Ultimately, I hope that translational immunobiology work like this will lead to longer, happier lives for kidney transplant recipients.


What are your short- and long-term career goals?

  • I am grateful that this grant will allow me to develop as a physician-scientist in transplant immunobiology. By the end of the grant period, I hope to understand some of the key signaling and activation mechanisms in transitional B cells. These studies of normal immunology will serve as a basis to understand abnormalities of these processes in transplant recipients. Hopefully we will even be able to identify rejection early and response to treatments. I hope these early studies, in the very long term, will lead to new B cell-directed therapies to prevent or treat rejection.


What has surprised you most about your career?

  • My first exposure to transplant nephrology was during my fellowship. I knew nothing about transplantation until that time and did not think it would be interesting. To my surprise, I fell in love the field almost instantly!


What are the major challenges facing nephrology research today?

  • I think that developing an individual physician-scientist requires a lot of support from mentors, institutions, and funding agencies. So much individual attention is required! The ASN’s support for individuals like me can be instrumental to help make sure all these pieces are put into place.


Something you may not know about me is…

  • I (think) I’m a great cook. I’ve learned a lot of scientists also like cooking. Perhaps because we can eat our experiments in the kitchen?


In my free time I like to…

  • Cook, swim, play pub trivia with friends (just don’t ask me pop culture questions), and go to the theater.
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Name: Nicholas Zwang, MD

Institution: The University of Illinois at Chicago

Grant: John Merrill Grant in Transplantation (2018)

Project Title: Quantifying signaling and activation mechanisms in human transitional B cells
 

How would you sum up your research in one sentence?

  • We are trying to find what makes transitional B cells (TrBs) “tick” so that we can preserve or promote their suppressor functions in transplantation.


Provide a brief overview of the research you will conduct with help from the grant.

  • Transitional B cells are a naïve B cell subset that may help prevent transplant rejection. The mechanisms by which human TrBs are activated to exert regulatory activity or differentiate away from this phenotype are not defined and may contrast with those of mature B cell subsets. The overall project hypothesis is that quantifying the mechanisms of TrB activation and maturation could yield pharmacologic strategies to promote or spare TrB function and survival while inhibiting mature B cell activation in transplantation. The hypothesis for Specific Aim 1 is that T cell-derived factors via STAT3 signaling mediate activation but not maturation of human TrBs. The hypothesis for Specific Aim 2 is that inhibition of BCR signaling prevents apoptosis of TrBs and diminishes mature B cell activation.


What inspired you to focus your research in this area?

  • I have been fortunate to work with inspiring patients and mentors. The strength our patients show through adversity is humbling. As is the faith they put in us to care for precious resources: their transplanted kidneys. My work with these patients in the clinic drives me to find better treatments for them. My mentors, especially Dr. Laurence Turka, have taught me the critical thinking skills and scientific reasoning skills to achieve these goals.  


What impact do you hope your research will have on patients?

  • I hope that my studies will help us prevent or lead to new cures for rejection. Ultimately, I hope that translational immunobiology work like this will lead to longer, happier lives for kidney transplant recipients.


What are your short- and long-term career goals?

  • I am grateful that this grant will allow me to develop as a physician-scientist in transplant immunobiology. By the end of the grant period, I hope to understand some of the key signaling and activation mechanisms in transitional B cells. These studies of normal immunology will serve as a basis to understand abnormalities of these processes in transplant recipients. Hopefully we will even be able to identify rejection early and response to treatments. I hope these early studies, in the very long term, will lead to new B cell-directed therapies to prevent or treat rejection.


What has surprised you most about your career?

  • My first exposure to transplant nephrology was during my fellowship. I knew nothing about transplantation until that time and did not think it would be interesting. To my surprise, I fell in love the field almost instantly!


What are the major challenges facing nephrology research today?

  • I think that developing an individual physician-scientist requires a lot of support from mentors, institutions, and funding agencies. So much individual attention is required! The ASN’s support for individuals like me can be instrumental to help make sure all these pieces are put into place.


Something you may not know about me is…

  • I (think) I’m a great cook. I’ve learned a lot of scientists also like cooking. Perhaps because we can eat our experiments in the kitchen?


In my free time I like to…

  • Cook, swim, play pub trivia with friends (just don’t ask me pop culture questions), and go to the theater.
Date:
Tuesday, July 17, 2018