Updated: Apr 19, 2021
What if research on a single mouse could cure cancer in humans? It may sound far-fetched, but someday it could be a reality.
The Comparative Immunogenetics Lab or Criscitiello Lab at Texas A&M University (TAMU) researches these possibilities daily. The Criscitiello Lab works with different TAMU colleges and institutions around the U.S. through comparative immunogenetics on all types of species.
Comparative immunogenetics means that findings in one species’ immune system could have the capability to aid another. Though the work examines different species other than humans, the findings could potentially be applied to combat human diseases or deficiencies.
Kaitlyn Romoser, a research assistant at the Criscitiello Lab, currently works with graduate students and researchers on a variety of projects that range from sea lions to mice.
“What's awesome [is that] the immune system between mammals and even between non-mammals … have stayed pretty similar, as a whole, for millions of years. All species leading up to humans, we have similar immune systems,” Romoser said. “If we study the mouse immune system, what we find in mice could very well be the same if not just like similar in humans. So, the projects I do, we are finding stuff out with mice or say with sea lions, but that could, later on, translate to human cancer or human immunodeficiencies.”
While Romoser initially joined the lab to research marine mammals, the work she participates in enables her to work with many different animals.
“It is such a wide range of animals. Our lab works with marine mammals, which is why I joined, but you know any applicable animal we can work with,” Romoser said. “A lot of labs come to us … [and ask] ‘can we collaborate on this project, because I see that you're interested in similar stuff?’ Someone might bring us … cells from an animal that we've never worked with before, but you know they're all the same essentially when it comes down to laboratory work.”
The lab is led by principal investigator Mike Criscitiello and its researchers are mostly comprised of graduate students. The vision and work set forth by Criscitiello enable researchers to perform varying tests on animal cells, analyze the data and hopefully find answers to unanswered questions about viruses and diseases.
“We look at the data [and] we kind of take an educated guess. We see a problem, [for example] the sea lions watching them die with cancer [and] take an educated guess based on what we know is in the immune system, what works just like cancer and what works with those cells,” Romoser said. “[Then] we decide, okay we're going to look at this one gene or this one protein … and see if we've manipulated that gene or protein if the outcome of cancer or the of the cell will change.”
Moving forward, the Criscitiello Lab will continue to aid animals and humans through their hard work and findings. Though science and medicine have progressed throughout the past century, we still have only scratched the surface of the possibilities to help both humans and animals through the comparison or understanding of both immune systems.
“We have just started to open a jar of possibilities with comparative science in general. Not just immunogenetics or even the immune system. With animals in general, I think we have a lot in common with them, with our bodies,” Romoser said. “With the science for our bodies, I think we can learn from animals. Vice versa, I think we can take what we know about us and apply that to animal science, which we do, but I think that there's a lot to be discovered with animal science that can be applied to human science.”
To learn more about the Criscitiello Lab and their research, visit https://vetmed.tamu.edu/comparative-immunogenetics-lab/.