Warren J. Leonard, the renowned immunologist who developed a treatment for Bubble Boy disease, will present a public lecture at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute at 5:30 p.m. on May 25.

His presentation, titled, Cytokines and Human Immunodeficiency: From Genes to New Therapeutics, is a part of the VTCRI Eric Shullman Distinguished Public Lecture Series.

Leonard, a National Institutes of Health Distinguished Investigator and elected member of the National Academy of Medicine, leads the Laboratory of Molecular Immunology at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Maryland.

Early in his career, Leonard found that a genetic mutation could induce the wrong chemical signals and render the body unable to protect itself against infections.

A person with such a condition would have to live in a completely sterile environment, as even something as mundane as the common cold could be fatal.

“Multiple forms of human-inherited immunodeficiency are diseases caused by defective signaling by cytokines,” Leonard said, referring to the hormones responsible for the development and function of the immune system. “One of these diseases, often known as ‘Bubble Boy’ disease, results from mutations in the gene that codes for a critical cytokine receptor.”

Leonard found that the cytokine receptor could be inhibited to restore immune function. This gene therapy, as it’s now called, was first used to treat children suffering from Bubble Boy disease.

Since then, Leonard and his team have continued to study how to control dysfunctional cytokine signaling. Their research has led to the development of next-generation therapeutics for immunodeficiency, and they continue to explore how to best fine-tune cytokines to improve immune response.

More recently, Leonard discovered a molecule that can inhibit cell growth in patients with a form of T-cell leukemia.

Leonard received his bachelor’s degree in mathematics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Princeton University and his medical degree from Stanford University.

After completing residency training in medicine at Barnes Hospital and a year of research in biochemistry at Washington University in St. Louis, Leonard arrived at the NIH as a postdoctoral fellow in the Metabolism Branch at the National Cancer Institute. He directed his own laboratory in the Cell Biology and Metabolism Branch at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development before joining the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Leonard and his work have been recognized with the American Federation for Clinical Research Foundation Outstanding Investigator Award, the Food and Drug Administration Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research Outstanding Service Award, the American Association of Immunologists - Huang Foundation Meritorious Career Award, and the Honorary Lifetime Membership Award of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society.

He serves as the past-president of the International Cytokine Society; as a member of the board and was the former vice president of the Foundation for Advanced Education in the Sciences; and on the Council of the Association of American Physicians.

He is also a member of the American Association of Immunologists, the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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