Dr. Fritz Gombart has joined LPI's Healthy Aging Program as a new principal investigator. He also holds the position of associate professor in OSU's Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics.
Since 1993 Dr. Gombart has worked as a research scientist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, initially in the Division of Hematology/Oncology and then in the Department of Biomedical Sciences.
Dr. Gombart has focused on the role of vitamin D in the human immune system, especially concerning microbial infection and cancer.
Humans are born with an "innate" immune system that defends us against pathogens like bacteria and viruses. It is a complex system comprised of mast cells; phagocytes, consisting of neutrophils, macrophages, and dendritic cells; natural killer cells; eosinophils; and basophils, which release histamine.
The "adaptive" immune system is responsible for long-term immunity and is comprised of lymphocytes called B cells and T cells. B cells manufacture antibodies against antigens, and T cells help mediate the overall immune response.
Neutrophils and macrophages of the innate immune system respond to cytokinesinflammatory molecules released at the site of infectionand migrate to the infection where they engulf pathogens and kill them by releasing reactive oxygen species. Neutrophils, mast cells, and natural killer cells can also kill pathogens by secreting cathelicidin, an antimicrobial protein. Since bacteria do not easily develop resistance to this protein, scientists have been interested in enhancing its production by immune cells during infections. Using cultured human cells, Dr. Gombart and his colleagues have shown that the biologically active form of vitamin D1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D3induces the expression of the gene encoding cathelicidin, thereby increasing the amount of this antimicrobial protein. Further development of this observation may provide an orthomolecular strategy for augmenting the immune response to pathogens, which is especially important as we age.
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