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UF/IFAS CALS undergraduate to present autoimmune research in D.C.

CALSUNDERGRAD (Lam) 031315

Brandon Lam

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Brandon Lam studies protein and pathogens to hopefully find a solution to autoimmune diseases like lupus. His research is so good he has been chosen to present his work at an academic symposium in Washington, D.C., in April.

Lam, a UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences undergraduate student, has been selected to represent UF at the 19th Annual Posters on the Hill event, sponsored by the National Council on Undergraduate Research, April 22-23. His poster will be one of 60 that were selected from close to 500 applications, said Elaine Turner, dean of the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.

“I am thrilled that I have been chosen to represent the sciences, and specifically, immunology,” said Lam, a first-generation American who attended high school in Miami. His family comes from Guyana.

Lam, 21, a senior who will graduate in May, knew he wanted to pursue a science career after he researched microbiology in high school as a student ambassador with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He also participated in research at Florida International University during high school.

Joseph Larkin III, an assistant professor in microbiology and cell science at UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, speaks with effusive praise about Lam.

“He is exceptional ─ not only by my standards ─ but by the standards of the University of Florida, Dartmouth College and Johns Hopkins University, as he has been accepted into graduate school at all locations,” Larkin said. “His academic excellence, however, is significantly eclipsed by his excellence as a person. I remember one instance where Brandon became a ‘chauffeur’ for about a week for a colleague who was getting car repairs performed. He did this in between course work and experiments. I feel very fortunate to work with amazing talents like Brandon at UF.”

Lam explains his relatively complex research — in which he works to improve the human immune system — in simple terms.

“The immune system is responsible for eliminating pathogens such as the Ebola and influenza viruses that affect millions worldwide,” Lam said. “This crucial system possesses the necessary tools to respond in a timely fashion and clear problematic pathogens in a process known as immunity.”

Once a person returns to full health, these immune system tools are expected to retreat until another problem arises. But sometimes the immune system tools mount an immune response against our own tissues, Lam said. These immune system attacks on human tissues can result in what is called “autoimmunity.”

“Our lab is interested in a family of proteins, known as the Suppressor of Cytokine Signaling (SOCS) family of proteins, which help control the balance between autoimmunity and immunity,” Lam said. “In both clinical studies and animal models, changes in SOCS levels have been associated with lupus-like diseases.”

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that affects 1.5 million Americans, and the number is believed to be growing.

“Our lab thinks it is possible to ameliorate lupus-like pathologies by targeting SOCS1 deficiency using a small peptide that can partially mimic the function of SOCS1,” Lam said. “We hope this novel approach can be translated into a therapy for autoimmune anomalies one day.”

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By Brad Buck, 352-294-3303, bradbuck@ufl.edu

Sources: Brandon Lam, 305-878-4222, brandonlam2805@gmail.com

Joseph Larkin III, 352-392-6884, jarkin3@ufl.edu

Elaine Turner, 352-392-1963, returner@ufl.edu