The Kean lab is working to solve the mystery of immune recognition and immune tolerance.
Immune recognition is the process by which the immune system tells the difference between the body’s own cells and outside invaders, such that it can identify viruses, bacteria and cancers it needs to eradicate. Immune tolerance is the process by which the immune system specifically turns itself off to avoid autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, Crohn’s disease and lupus. Immune tolerance is also critical after bone marrow transplantation, such that the newly transplanted cells can survive in the patient and not cause graft-versus-host disease (GVHD), which is the deadliest complication associated with bone marrow transplantation.
Unraveling immune tolerance will lead to new techniques that overcome transplant rejection and prevent GVHD. It will enable us to use bone marrow transplants to treat HIV and other complex diseases. It will increase our understanding of how best to prevent and treat autoimmune diseases. And it will inform our attempts to augment the immune system to treat diseases such as chronic infections and malignancies.
Leslie Kean, MD, PhD, is associate director of the Ben Towne Center for Childhood Cancer Research, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and joint associate member at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
She joined Seattle Children’s in 2013 after spending more than a decade on the faculty at Emory University. There, Kean developed an innovative animal model for graft-versus-host disease and made a key discovery: A drug used to treat rheumatoid arthritis could potentially prevent GVHD. Kean’s team spent several years investigating the drug and showing that it dramatically improves how animal models tolerate transplants.
Now Kean is leading a Phase 2 clinical trial to evaluate whether the drug is effective in children. It’s the nation’s only multicenter pediatric clinical trial aimed at preventing GVHD.
Kean received an MPhil degree from Cambridge University in the U.K., began her PhD studies at Stanford University and ultimately received an MD/PhD from Emory University. She completed her postdoctoral research, residency and fellowship in pediatrics and pediatric hematology-oncology at Emory University Hospitals and the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.