Free University of Brussels; Brussels, Belgium; BS, Molecular Biology; 1999
Free University of Brussels; PhD, Molecular Biology; 2004
Free University of Brussels; Postdoctoral Fellowship; 2005-2006
Yale University; New Haven, CT; Postdoctoral Fellowship; 2006-2011
Yale University; Associate Research Scientist; 2011-2015
Dr. Rongvaux studies the very first steps that lead to a productive immune response. These involve circulating “innate” immune cells that initially recognize problems, such as cells infected by a virus or transformed by malignant changes. Innate immune cells respond quickly and broadly and activate the “adaptive” immune cells that then try to get rid of the abnormal cells. Rongvaux studies the cells, genes and molecules that power innate immune responses.
To investigate the role of particular genes in the innate immune response, Dr. Rongvaux develops and uses very special genetically-modified mice that carry “humanized” versions of immune cells and factors. These new mouse models are powerful tools in his studies of immune responses to infection and responses to emerging blood cancers, as well as his analyses of immunity against solid tumors.
Dr. Rongvaux’s ongoing research focuses on answering two main questions: how does cell death affect the activation of the innate immune response, and how do innate immune cells, contribute to the clearance of dangerous invaders from our bodies?
At least one million cells die every second in the human body; precisely how cells die
determines whether they trigger immune responses or not. Rongvaux recently identified a previously unrecognized mechanism by which a cell’s energy factories (mitochondria) control both cell death and anti-viral immunity, the latter via production of molecules called type I interferons. But, he found that the anti-viral immune responses can be blocked by another set of molecules known as caspases. Understanding this dual control mechanism may highlight new opportunities to boost innate immunity.
Dr. Rongvaux’s current studies of innate immune cells are especially focused on macrophages and natural killer (NK) cells. He is able to study these cells in one of his humanized mouse models that carries human versions of particular “cytokine” molecules that support the development and function of human macrophages and NK cells in the mice. Of note, macrophages can play supportive or suppressive roles in innate immunity and Dr. Rongvaux’s studies may help clarify how to preferentially increase protective immune responses. He is also now creating humanized mice using patient-derived cells, which will provide especially useful models for testing new immune-boosting therapies in the lab.