MGH Research Scholars Program
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. History has shown that brilliant scientists who are given free rein to explore new frontiers make the greatest, often unexpected, advances.
The work of MGH Research Scholar Thorsten Mempel, MD, PhD, is focused on understanding how tissue environments control cellular behavior as well as the mechanisms by which cells communicate with each other.
Cell Migration and Cell-Cell Communication in the Immune System
I obtained my MD and a PhD in cardiovascular physiology at the University of Munich in Germany, where I also began clinical training in pediatric surgery, before my interest in the pathophysiology of inflammation motivated me to interrupt my training and engage in experimental research on neutrophil migration.
In 2007 I joined the faculty of the Center for Immunology and Inflammatory Diseases and the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology at Massachusetts General Hospital, where I am now an Associate Professor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Since then, I have set up a fully independently funded research laboratory developing and using cutting-edge in vivo imaging approaches to study cell migration and cellular communication in the immune system.
All individual as well as coordinated cellular functions are influenced by a multitude of extrinsic factors, including the spatial distribution of cells in tissues, their activation state, and their native interaction within the tissue architecture, none of which can be fully replicated experimentally outside living organisms.
My work is focused on understanding how tissue environments control cellular behavior as well as the mechanisms by which cells communicate with each other in vivo in ways that cannot be recapitulated in the culture dish.
Specifically, my lab uses advanced intravital microscopy techniques to investigate the migration of immune cells between and within tissues, their physical interactions with each other and their tissue environment, and how they integrate the various signal inputs they receive during immune surveillance and response.
The primary goal of my research is to understand how the functions of T lymphocytes are regulated in vivo, which will allow us to develop better therapeutic strategies intended to either enhance or to dampen immunological functions in the context of diseases whose pathogenesis involves the immune system, such as cancer, chronic infections, or autoimmune diseases.
Recently, a second theme has emerged from our work, namely to examine how HIV, a virus that infects immune cells, exploits the very same cell biological mechanisms that immune cells use to communicate with other in order to spread from cell to cell and generate a chronic, systemic infection.