Jermaine Khumalo, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at La Jolla Institute for Immunology (LJI), has been named a 2021 Intersect Fellow by the American Association of Immunologists (AAI). With this fellowship, Khumalo will bring together immunology and computational science training to fuel new research into allergic asthma.
With the use of new genomics tools in immunology, there is a need for scientists with the computational training to handle large datasets. The AAI Intersect Fellowship Awards support researchers who wish to cross-train in experimental immunology and computational science.
As an AAI Intersect Fellow, Khumalo will be working with LJI Professor Pandurangan Vijayanand, M.D., Ph.D., a physician-scientist with expertise in clinical disease and the development of genomics tools, and LJI Associate Professor Ferhat Ay, Ph.D., a computational scientist and leader in the fields of genomic and epigenetic analysis.
"It's really important to have the new fields merge," says Khumalo.
Khumalo says while researchers in recent years have discovered many new immune cell subsets, more work is needed to understand the role each cell type actually plays in driving the development of disease in the body. He hopes that combining immunological lab techniques and computational techniques will help him uncover novel immune cell functions. This research is particularly important for studying allergic asthma, where many types of T cells can drive disease development.
"Allergy is quite a complex syndrome," says Khumalo. "We need to use computational science to study immune cells and how they change in people with allergic asthma. We can do this by combining expertise in clinical disease with cutting-edge tools in single-cell analysis."
With a better understanding of immune cell functions, Khumalo hopes to uncover new biomarkers that may help doctors identify patients at risk of developing severe disease. He also hopes the research can shed light on new therapeutic targets to help treat patients suffering from allergic asthma.