Genetic analysis of natural killer cell functions

Linnea Veinotte believes immunology (studying the immune system’s functions and disorders) and molecular genetics (studying the molecular structure and function of genes) will be an important research combination in the future. Linnea worked in both areas during her Master’s Research, studying natural killer (NK) cells, unique types of lymphocytes (white blood cells). Distributed in various tissues, the cells are thought to be the body’s first line of natural defense against cancers and viruses. NK cells can kill a wide range of cancer and virus-infected cells but not normal cells. Linnea aimed to better understand their development during varying stages. Linnea discovered, unexpectedly, that a small percentage of NK cells in the neonatal and adult stage express a gene specific to T cells: the T cell receptor gamma gene (TCR). This suggests that a population of NK cells shares extensive characteristics with T cell development, and that multiple developmental pathways of of NK cells may exist. She continues to further define NK cell differentiation in her PhD program, and hopes that the research will contribute to treatments for cancer and virus infection.