Immune disorders – such as immunodeficiencies, leukemia and lymphoma, autoimmunity, and allergy – are significant health problems. For example, every year 5,600 Canadians people die of cancers of the immune system, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and these cancers account for 42% of all cancers in children. Current treatments for these cancers, such as chemotherapy and radiation therapy, have significant shortcomings. To improve recovery rates and reduce unwanted side effects, researchers need to develop new, specifically targeted treatment approaches. Treating diseases with few side effects requires knowing the signals involved in disease development. Dr. Ninan Abraham is focusing his research on understanding how a cytokine called interleukin-7 (IL-7) regulates immune cells by interacting with proteins to trigger biochemical pathways that control normal cell development and function. IL-7 is an essential growth factor that promotes the development of T cells and memory T cells, which are both essential for the body’s response to pathogens that lead to disease or infection. Being able to enhance development or survival of T cells by manipulating IL-7 could lead to the creation of more effective vaccines to boost the body’s immune response to disease. Conversely, since over-expression of IL-7 is associated with several forms of human T cell lymphoma, being able to limit this cytokine’s activity could also be important. By identifying how IL-7 promotes the development or survival of T cells and memory T cells, Abraham hopes for new strategies for treating these cancers and enhancing vaccines for long-term immunity.