084: Wack lab
Created by Sophia Davidson
The Wack lab investigates early immune responses to influenza A virus. Influenza targets specific cells in the lung known as airway epithelial cells; it is in this cell type that influenza can replicate itself and establish a productive infection. The lab has developed a fully differentiated culture system where we can model these cells and their response to flu. Given the importance of this culture system to our lab’s work it takes central place in our canvas.
Surrounding the epithelial cells (for stylistic reasons, the cells are facing the wrong way) are the invading virus particles, which cause the epithelial cells to send out warning signals. These warning signals (shown in red and blue) are called interferons and they act to recruit immune cells. Immune cells come into the lung to help clear the virus, they also make more warning signals (not just reds and blue but all colours) to call for more cells and kill infected airway epithelial cells. However, if they are over-zealous they can inadvertently cause damage to the lung. Unfortunately, this can allow opportunistic bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae to invade the lung.
A different type of cell, called a neutrophil, is then needed to deal with the bacteria. If you are lucky and the bacteria are cleared your lung can finally start to heal itself.
There are many instances where things can go wrong, so that’s why our lab is dedicated to understanding the underlying processes involved in the host response to flu. If you look carefully you can see the fingerprints (in copper coloured paint) of each Wack lab member in the area that they study.