Theory and experiment in immune research have developed largely independently, but recent advances in each are presenting new opportunities. Two-photon microscopy tracks immune cells in vivo in exquisite detail, for example, and the resulting new data have furthered computational and mathematical modeling of cell movement.
Such promising progress has prompted SFI researchers to explore means of linking the fields. Computer scientist and SFI External Professor Melanie Moses and immunologist Judy Cannon, both of the University of New Mexico, are co-organizing a working group this week at SFI: Motility in the Immune System.
The participants will focus on methods of studying the emergence of immune response from the complex motility patterns of T cells. Attendees include immunological modelers and SFI External Professors Alan Perelson (Los Alamos National Lab) and Stephanie Forrest (UNM); Mark Miller (Washington University), a pioneer in studying T cell movement; and physicist Nitant Kenkre (UNM), a mathematical modeler of animal movement and epidemiology.
In considering various systems as a basis for modeling immune cells, Moses and her colleagues have looked to well-studied communication and movement in ants, as they have “intriguing similarities,” Moses says. Both ants and T cells move stochastically: ants when foraging and T cells in their search for infected cells. Both rely heavily on chemical communication: ants draw a line to crumbs on your picnic blanket using pheromone trails, and T cells recognize molecular markers on infected cells to initiate the adaptive immune response. Both are evolved to cooperate in the service of a larger entity rather than to survive as individuals.
Building on the primary goal of understanding and predicting T cell movement in a range of conditions, the participants will explore the broader concept of search efficiency and how agents adapt to varying stimuli across the biological domains.
“The driving question is how relatively simple agents cooperate and how they do so differently in different kinds of environments,” she says.
More information about the working group here.