What do you do when your own immune system is harming you?

Cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada today. Key players in cancer pathogenesis are small proteins called cytokines. They work together to stimulate an immune response to control cellular stress and minimize damage to cells. 

Cytokines signal immune cells to travel to the site of the infection. These cells are stimulated by the cytokines to produce additional cytokines. During a typical immune response this process is controlled, but sometimes it becomes unregulated and results in too many cytokines arriving to help: a cytokine storm.

Cytokine storms have an extremely negative effect on the immune system which can lead to the death of the patient. Your own immune system can cause more damage than the original infection.

Dynamics of cytokines during a storm are highly complex and little is known about specific interactions. Dr. Allan Willms works with students and collaborators to investigate and model the dynamics of cytokines with respect to both initiating and exacerbating a cytokine storm. The goal of this research is to better understand the interactions involved in the development of a cytokine storm and to work with other groups to eventually led to a treatment or prevention of these deadly phenomena.

A cytokine

High school students interested in developing the mathematical and statistical skills to tackle a real world problem such as this should consider our Mathematical Science Major, with an Area of Emphasis in Biomathematical Modelling.

Prospective graduate students interested in working with Dr. Willms should visit his website, or read more about Graduate Studies at Guelph.