Press Release November 19, 2014

Immunologist, HIV expert Derya Unutmaz, M.D., joins Jackson Laboratory faculty

Farmington, Conn. – Derya Unutmaz, M.D., an immunologist who studies the molecular mechanisms of T cells and their involvement in HIV infection and other chronic inflammatory diseases in humans, has been named a professor at The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) for Genomic Medicine.

Unutmaz joins JAX from the New York University School of Medicine in Manhattan, where he was professor of microbiology, pathology and medicine.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, “is finely adapted to infect and destroy CD4+ T cells,” a category of human immune cells, Unutmaz explains. “My research has focused on understanding what HIV ‘knows’ about the immune system and how HIV infection leads to disease. We are now using the knowledge we acquired from studying HIV to other chronic inflammatory disorders and to understand the aging of the immune system. JAX will be an ideal institution to continue our studies at the genomics level and translate them for clinical use.”

His laboratory’s discoveries include the role of cytokines (proteins produced by immune cells) in making CD4+ T cells more vulnerable to HIV infection; and how HIV preferentially infects and perturbs human T cell subsets, including NKT, regulatory T (Tregs) and IL-17-secreting (Th17) cells.

The Jackson Laboratory is expanding its research faculty in immunology—including cancer immunobiology, autoimmunity and host response to infectious diseases—as well as cancer and other research areas, at both the headquarters campus of Bar Harbor, Maine, and the new JAX Genomic Medicine facility in Connecticut.

Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., JAX professor and director of immunological sciences, says, “Derya’s expertise in the immunological changes that occur during HIV infection will be a vital part of the Laboratory’s program to understand the workings of the immune system in a wide range of human diseases and conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, cardiovascular diseases and even aging.”

The Turkish-born Unutmaz earned his M.D. at Marmara University Medical School in Istanbul. He completed postdoctoral appointments in the immunology department of Novartis in Basel, Switzerland; the Immunobiology Research Institute of Novartis and Chiron Corporation in Siena, Italy; and the Skirball Institute of New York University.

He joined the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine faculty in 1999 as assistant professor of microbiology and immunology, rising to associate professor. In 2006 he moved to the New York University School of Medicine as an associate professor of microbiology, later adding appointments to the departments of medicine and pathology.

The author of 81 research papers, Unutmaz has contributed to seven awarded and pending patents. He is a U.S. citizen.

The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit biomedical research institution and National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center based in Bar Harbor, Maine, with a facility in Sacramento, Calif., and a new genomic medicine institute in Farmington, Conn. It employs 1,600 staff, and its mission is to discover precise genomic solutions for disease and empower the global biomedical community in the shared quest to improve human health.