What Your Cells Need to Keep You Healthy

Imagine if Boston’s entire fleet of waste disposal trucks suddenly disappeared. The city would fill with garbage and, without emergency measures, would eventually become unlivable.

The human body has its own waste disposal trucks, so to speak: cells called macrophages. These cells, whose name literally means “big eaters,” live in every organ – heart, lung, liver, brain – where they eat and eliminate damaged and potentially dangerous material. Yet macrophages do far more than collect garbage. Among other things, they support brain function, regulate body temperature and recycle iron. They also respond quickly when things go wrong.

Macrophages accumulate in large numbers in atherosclerotic lesions that cause heart attacks and strokes, in tumors, in arthritic joints, and in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s.

Are macrophages defending against disease or unwittingly contributing to it?

In the Swirski lab, researchers seek to uncover macrophages’ hidden secrets. If researchers can understand the body’s microscopic details – the complexities of its sanitation networks – they will be better at discovering how and why it fails.

The MGH Research Scholars Program was established to support early career researchers with innovative yet unproven ideas that have the potential to transform the future of medicine. Funded 100% through philanthropy, this program gives researchers the freedom and flexibility they need to follow the science wherever it leads. Time and time again, history has shown that brilliant scientists who are given free rein to explore new frontiers are the ones who make the greatest, often wholly unexpected, advances.

Learn more about the MGH Research Scholars Program.

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