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The Key to Unlocking the Body’s Immune System

May 21, 2020

Demin Wang, PhD, is studying the function of B cells to better understand how they fight infection.


The human body is composed of millions of cells that all do their part to keep the body healthy and functioning properly. All of the human body’s cells originate as stem cells in bone marrow, and it is from there that they undergo a differentiation process and “grow up,” transforming into the different cells that power our bodies. Versiti Blood Research Institute (BRI) Senior Investigator Demin Wang, PhD, is studying B cells, which are a key component of the immune system. “This type of cell can produce antibodies, which are very important tools for diagnosis and treatment and for fighting infection,” he said.

When functioning properly, B cells help your body develop an immunity to illnesses. However, if something goes wrong during the differentiation process, it can cause B cells to malfunction. Dr. Wang studies each step in the differentiation of these cells. “We study the normal development of B cells, which will help us understand what causes diseases like leukemia and lymphoma to form,” he said, “Based on that understanding, we can come up with a new strategy for treatment.”

Recently, Dr. Wang and his colleagues published a research article that explained that B cell function is dependent on the help of other cells, particularly CD4 T cells, which help fight short-lived illnesses. B cells and T cells work hand in hand, as B cells develop antibodies to a disease—with help from CD4 T cells—which use those antibodies to kill infected cells. Dr. Wang and his team recently discovered a subset of CD8 T cells that helps them generate antibodies. This new knowledge helps researchers better understand how T cells help B cells and keep the immune system functioning properly.

Dr. Wang is also involved in a study with fellow BRI investigators Richard Aster, MD, and Renren Wen, PhD, who are taking a closer look at heparin-induced thrombocytopenia (HIT), a disease that causes a patient’s platelet count to drop to dangerous levels when they take the blood thinner heparin. Without a blood thinner, these patients can develop blood clots that can cause them to lose a limb or, in worst cases, their lives. Dr. Wang and Dr. Wen are attempting to clone B cells from patients with HIT to identify the antibody that causes patients to develop the disease, with a goal of finding new treatment options. “This will have a big impact on and improve the diagnosis of HIT,” Dr. Wang said.

The ability to collaborate with investigators like Dr. Aster is one of the reasons Dr. Wang was drawn to the BRI. “We’re one of the top institutes in the world doing blood research,” he said. “Our collaborative investigators and access to cutting-edge equipment has accelerated our work.”

He also credits the Versiti Blood Research Institute Foundation for helping to push this innovative research forward. “We have so many questions we want to address, but we don’t have enough resources to do it,” he said. That’s where the Foundation comes in. It helps offset costs that competitive grants don’t cover and makes it possible to recruit researchers, students and postdoctoral fellows to accelerate research discoveries that help save lives. Learn more about the Versiti Blood Research Institute Foundation and how you can push this innovative research forward and help save lives.

Demin Wang, PhD, is a senior investigator at Versiti Blood Research Institute and a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Versiti Blood Research Institute Articles
Research articles that explore Versiti Blood Research Institute investigators and their expertise in blood health innovation.
We study the development and function of the immune system and design immunomodulating therapies for infection, autoimmune disease, and cancer.
Versiti Blood Research Institute
Versiti Blood Research Institute investigators study blood disorders like hemophilia, blood cancers like leukemia, and other blood diseases.
Demin Wang, PhD
Dr. Wang is the John B. and Judith A. Gardetto Chair for Cancer Research and a senior investigator at Versiti Blood Research Institute.