Our immune system mounts swift, strong responses to pathogen invasion. However, the same highly nonlinear responses that protect us also have the potential to wreak havoc. This balance, and its failure, arise from a dynamical interplay amongst cells and signaling molecules throughout an organism. While we have an ever-growing list of the components of this system, understanding how they combine to control its behavior remains a vast challenge. However, technological advances now give us unprecedented opportunities to make quantitative measurements of the molecular and cellular underpinnings of immune responses, up to the scale of whole organisms. We leverage these experimental technologies, combined with tools from statistical physics and dynamical systems, to investigate tipping points and collective behavior in immunity and inflammation. Our main model system is the zebrafish, which has the same cellular components as the mammalian immune system, but is transparent and orders of magnitude smaller in size. This enables optical imaging of cellular and gene expression dynamics in the whole live organism, and opens opportunities for precise spatial perturbations with light. Our primary objective is to understand how spatiotemporal control of inflammation is achieved in this system, and why it sometimes fails. Ultimately, we seek to discover mathematical principles that underly the function and failure of these responses, towards predicting and controlling them.
We are a new lab in the Physics Department and James Franck Institute at the University of Chicago, starting in January 2023. Please see Opportunities for more information!