Not only the DNA sequence – our genome – but also the 3D structure of our genome – the 'epi-genome' – is essential in determining the type and function of a cell. That's why the analysis of the epigenome facilitates deep insights into the developmental history of a cell and its current gene expression profile, but also allows deductions on its future destiny.
Our group analyzes the epigenetic structures of T lymphocytes, a hematopoietic cell population which provides immunological protection against various types of invading pathogens and tumors. These cells are also under intensive investigation for the use in adoptive cellular therapies. However, these cells are also one of the main contributors to chronic inflammation and auto-immunity during disease.
We employ state-of-the-art epigenome-profiling techniques to characterize the epigenome of T lymphocytes during health and disease. From the epigenomic data, we can learn about the differentiation and activation state of T cells and find epigenetic biomarkers in genes which contribute to the functional efficiency of T cells or to their pathogenic function during disease.
Another line of research concentrates on elucidating how targeted manipulation of theepigenetic machinery can influence the function and survival of a cell. For this, we employ state-of-the-art 'epigenetic editing' techniques including CRISPR/Cas9-based tools, to specifically change the epigenetic state of regulatory elements to induce a preferred functional state in T cells. This could be used in the future as a potential therapeutic approach, to equip T cell populations with a favorable function for their application in adoptive T cell therapy against auto-immune diseases or to fight cancer.