T cell-depleted cultured pediatric thymus tissue as a model for some aspects of human age-related thymus involution.


Human age-related thymus involution is characterized by loss of developing thymocytes and the thymic epithelial network that supports them, with replacement by adipose tissue. The mechanisms that drive these changes are difficult to study in vivo due to constant trafficking to and from the thymus. We hypothesized that the loss of thymocytes that occurs during human thymic organ cultures could model some aspects of thymus involution and begin to identify mechanisms that drive age-related changes in the thymic microenvironment. Potential mechanistically important candidate molecules were initially identified by screening conditioned media from human thymus organ cultures using antibody microarrays. These candidates were further validated using cultured tissue extracts and conditioned media. Results were compared with gene expression studies from a panel of well-characterized (non-cultured) human thymus tissues from human donors aged 5 days to 78 years. L-selectin released into conditioned media was identified as a biomarker for the content of viable thymocytes within the cultured thymus. Levels of the chemokines CCL21 and CXCL12, likely produced by surviving thymic epithelial cells, increased markedly in conditioned media as thymocytes were lost during culture. Native non-cultured thymus from adults older than 18 years also showed a strong trend toward increased CCL21 expression, in conjunction with significant decreases in thymocyte-related mRNAs compared with thymus from subjects younger than 18 years. Together, these findings demonstrate that use of postnatal human thymus organ cultures can model some aspects of human age-related thymic involution.





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Publication Info

Hale, Laura P, Lynn Cheatham, Andrew N Macintyre, Bonnie LaFleur, Brittany Sanders, Jesse Troy, Joanne Kurtzberg, Gregory D Sempowski, et al. (2021). T cell-depleted cultured pediatric thymus tissue as a model for some aspects of human age-related thymus involution. GeroScience, 43(3). pp. 1369–1382. 10.1007/s11357-020-00301-1 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/24553.

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Laura Pope Hale

Professor of Pathology

The Hale laboratory employs techniques of cellular and molecular biology to study mechanisms responsible for the generation of both normal immune responses and immune-mediated diseases. Research in the laboratory is mainly focused on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), an immune-mediated disorder that is hypothesized to result from the abnormal immune response of a genetically susceptible host to the antigens derived from enteric bacteria. Development of optimal treatments for disease requires a detailed understanding of mechanisms of disease pathogenesis. Thus current work in the laboratory is aimed at understanding triggers of intestinal inflammation and mechanisms of inflammation-associated neoplasia, in addition to developing novel therapies for IBD treatment. Ongoing research also includes investigating mechanisms that determine the immunogenicity of oral antigens, to develop novel adjuvants for oral vaccines. This work has relevance for pathogenesis and treatment of infectious diseases affecting the gastrointestinal tract, as well as for inflammatory bowel disease.

Dr. Hale is an expert in pathologic evaluation of colitis and immunodeficiency in both humans and mice and is board-certified in Anatomic and Clinical Pathology.


Andrew Neil Macintyre

Associate Professor in Medicine

Andrew Macintyre, PhD, directs the Immunology Unit within the Duke Regional Biocontainment Laboratory. The Macintyre lab team designs and performs assays to quantify immune reconstitution and immune responses. The lab specializes in multiplex cytokine arrays, flow cytometry, high-throughput ELISAs, qRT-PCR, and other molecular tests. 

The assays his team develops and runs support research into biodefense and critical public health challenges. Long-running collaborative projects include the evaluation of radiation countermeasures and the development of vaccines for influenza, gonorrhea, SARS-CoV2, and other pathogens.


Jesse David Troy

Associate Professor of Biostatistics & Bioinformatics

I am the Associate Director of Graduate Studies for the Master of Biostatistics program. I am also an instructor in the Clinical Research Training Program. I work on research studies in cancer therapeutics and palliative care at the Duke Cancer Institute.


Joanne Kurtzberg

Jerome S. Harris Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics

Dr. Kurtzberg is an internationally renowned expert in pediatric hematology/oncology, pediatric blood and marrow transplantation, umbilical cord blood banking and transplantation, and novel applications of cord blood and birthing tissues in the emerging fields of cellular therapies and regenerative medicine.   Dr. Kurtzberg serves as the Director of the Marcus Center for Cellular Cures (MC3), Director of the Pediatric Transplant and Cellular Therapy Program, Director of the Carolinas Cord Blood Bank, and Co-Director of the Stem Cell Transplant Laboratory at Duke University.  The Carolinas Cord Blood Bank is an FDA licensed public cord blood bank distributing unrelated cord blood units for donors for hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT) through the CW Bill Young Cell Transplantation Program.  The Robertson GMP Cell Manufacturing Laboratory supports manufacturing of RETHYMIC (BLA, Enzyvant, 2021), allogeneic cord tissue derived and bone marrow derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs), and DUOC, a microglial/macrophage cell derived from cord blood.

Dr. Kurtzberg’s research in MC3 focuses on translational studies from bench to bedside, seeking to develop transformative clinical therapies using cells, tissues, molecules, genes, and biomaterials to treat diseases and injuries that currently lack effective treatments. Recent areas of investigation in MC3 include clinical trials investigating the safety and efficacy of autologous and allogeneic cord blood in children with neonatal brain injury – hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cerebral palsy (CP), and autism. Clinical trials testing allogeneic cord blood are also being conducted in adults with acute ischemic stroke. Clinical trials optimizing manufacturing and testing the safety and efficacy of cord tissue MSCs in children with autism, CP and HIE and adults with COVID-lung disease are underway. DUOC, given intrathecally, is under study in children with leukodystrophies and adults with primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

In the past, Dr. Kurtzberg has developed novel chemotherapeutic drugs for acute leukemias, assays enumerating ALDH bright cells to predict cord blood unit potency, methods of cord blood expansion, potency assays for targeted cell and tissue based therapies. Dr. Kurtzberg currently holds several INDs for investigational clinical trials from the FDA.  She has also trained numerous medical students, residents, clinical and post-doctoral fellows over the course of her career.

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