NIAMS IRP Retreat 2012

Keynote Speakers

Picture of Dr. Jean CasanovaJean Laurent Casanova, M.D., Ph.D.
St. Giles Laboratory of Human Genetics of Infectious Diseases, The Rockefeller University

Dr. Jean-Laurent Casanova is a pediatrician and immunologist by training, and in practice, has become a human geneticist investigating the immunological basis of childhood infectious diseases. He discovered that life-threatening infectious diseases of childhood may be caused by single-gene inborn errors of immunity. He revealed single-gene mutations that create ‘holes’ in the immune system of children who are susceptible to specific infectious diseases, yet remain normally resistant to other infectious agents.

Dr. Casanova’s research started with a simple question: what is it that makes some children develop a severe clinical illness in the course of infection while others exposed to the same microbe remain unharmed? In groundbreaking research, he discovered that single-gene lesions in children can confer selective vulnerability to certain infectious illnesses. Until these discoveries, single-gene lesions were only thought to underlie rare Mendelian traits, predisposing affected children to multiple infectious diseases.

Dr. Casanova’s research has already been recognized in important ways. He was an international research scholar with the HHMI from 2005 to 2008 and a member of the EMBO and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He was the recipient of the Professor Lucien Dautrebande Pathophysiology Prize from the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine in 2004 and the 2008 Richard Lounsbery Award from the French and American Academies of Sciences. In 2009, he received the Oswald Avery Award from the Infectious Disease Society of America. In 2010, he was awarded the E. Mead Johnson Award from the Society for Pediatric Research, and in 2011, the InBev-Baillet Latour Health Prize in Immunology and Infectious Diseases. Most recently, he was named the Seymour and Vivian Milstein Award for Excellence in Interferon and Cytokine Research 2012 laureate and was recipient of the Ilse and Helmut Wachter Foundation Award from the Innsbruck Medical University.



Picture of Dr. Yijun RuanYijun Ruan, Ph.D.
Professor and Director for Genomic Sciences, The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine

Dr. Yijun Ruan is currently a professor at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine located in Farmington, Connecticut. As the Director for Genomic Sciences, Dr Ruan is also responsible for the Laboratory’s development and integration of genomics programs across its Bar Harbor and Farmington campuses. Prior joining the Laboratory, Dr Ruan was a Sr Group Leader and Associate Director at the Genome Institute of Singapore from 2002 to 2012, and was a formidable force for establishing the institute’s genomics capability and award winning genomics programs. Dr Ruan’s research interest involves in developing genomic technologies, taking genomics strategy to study higher-order chromatin structure and functional implementation, as well as applying DNA sequencing approaches to advance genomic medicine. Dr Ruan studied microbiology in China, and obtained his PhD in molecular biology in 1994 from the University of Maryland, then joined the Monsanto Company in 1995 to initiated the company’s genomics programs for plant improvement.



Picture of Dr. Barry SleckmanBarry Sleckman, M.D., Ph.D.
Conan Professor of Pathology and Immunology, Washington University

Dr. Barry Sleckman received his undergraduate degree in biology from Lafayette College in 1983 and his MD and PhD degree in immunology from Harvard Medical School in 1989. His thesis work was done in the laboratory of Dr. Steven Burakoff at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute and focused on establishing the function of CD4 during T cell activation. In 1993 after medical residency and infectious diseases fellowship at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Dr. Sleckman entered the laboratory of Dr. Frederick Alt at the Boston Children’s Hospital where he focused on elucidating basic mechanisms that regulate the assembly of lymphocyte antigen receptor genes. In 1998, he started his own laboratory in the Department of Pathology and Immunology at Washington University where he has remained and is currently the Conan Professor of Pathology and Chief of the Division of Laboratory and Genomic Medicine.

Since 1998, Dr. Sleckman’s laboratory has focused primarily on elucidating the different cellular pathways activated by DNA double strand breaks (DSBs) generated during lymphocyte antigen receptor gene assembly and defining their functions in DNA DSB repair and lymphocyte development. His lab has identified pathways that regulate the generation of these DNA breaks, pathways that drive normal DSB repair and pathways that prevent aberrant DSB repair forming potentially transforming lesions such as chromosomal deletions and translocations. Moreover, Dr. Sleckman’s lab established that signals from these DSBs regulate processes important for normal lymphocyte development. Dr. Sleckman has been Director of the Immunology Graduate Program at Washington University and is currently Director of the Physician Scientist Training Program in the Department of Pathology and Immunology and Associate Director of the Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University. He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was elected into the Association of American Physicians and has received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Lafayette College.



Picture of Dr. Michael WeinblattMichael Weinblatt, M.D.
John R. and Eileen K. Riedman Professor of Medicine
Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School

Michael E. Weinblatt, MD, is Co-director of Clinical Rheumatology at the Brigham and Women's Hospital and the John R. and Eileen K. Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, Massachusetts. His major research interest is in therapeutics for rheumatoid arthritis. For over two decades he had been evaluating new therapies for rheumatoid arthritis starting with methotrexate, leflunomide, cyclosporin, combination therapy and the biologics including anti-TNF therapies, abatacept, rituximab and tocilizumab . These studies include several pivotal studies leading to approval of methotrexate, etanercept and adalimumab. In addition to his ongoing therapeutic program Dr. Weinblatt serves as Co-PI of a large long term rheumatoid arthritis patient registry BRASS which has served as a platform for ongoing translational and clinical research in rheumatoid arthritis. His work on the development of methotrexate therapy for rheumatoid arthritis garnered him the Carol Nachman Prize for Rheumatology and the Arthritis Foundation Virginia P. Engalitcheff Award for Impact on Quality of Life. In 2008 he received the American College of Rheumatology Distinguished Clinical Investigator Award. Author of The Arthritis Action Program: An Integrated Plan of Traditional and Complementary Therapies, Dr. Weinblatt has authored or co-authored more than 200 published papers, reviews, and book chapters on rheumatology. He is the co-editor of Targeted Treatment of the Rheumatic Diseases and an editor of the textbook Rheumatology 3rd,4th, 5th editions. He served as an Associate Editor of Arthritis & Rheumatism and currently sits on multiple editorial boards.

Dr. Weinblatt was a member of the Rheumatology Subspecialty Board of the American Board of Internal Medicine and served as the President of the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) in 2001.

Dr. Weinblatt earned his medical degree at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, where he also completed his internship and residency. He completed a fellowship in rheumatology at the Robert B. Brigham Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.


Picture of Dr. Patrick WilsonPatrick Wilson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Medicine/Rheumatology
Knapp Center for Lupus and Immunology Research, The University of Chicago

With a particular emphasis on antibody specificity, two primary interests have emerged in the lab: We study the fate and differentiation of autoreactive B cells and we characterize the human B cell response to infectious diseases. The basis of vaccination is often to generate protective titers of blood-borne antibody and memory B cells that can protect against infectious diseases. We have recently devised powerful approaches to rapidly generate monoclonal antibodies that allow an evaluation of the specificity of ongoing immune responses in humans. We are working with various collaborators to understand human B cell responses to infectious diseases of central importance to world health. In particular we are studying the immune responses to influenza and dengue viruses and to staphylococcal and anthrax bacteria after vaccination or infection. Our goals are several-fold and include a better understanding of how human B cell responses are mounted, to improve vaccines to these diseases, and finally to generate monoclonal antibodies that could help identify targets for the rational design of improved vaccines or could prove to be powerful diagnostic or therapeutic reagents