Ignacio Sanz, M.D.
An expert on autoimmune diseases, Ignacio Sanz has made critical contributions to understanding how a drug routinely prescribed for lymphoma could also effectively treat rheumatoid arthritis and lupus by eliminating B cells.
Studies from Sanz’s group published over the last few years established that the therapy worked because it disrupted rogue B cells in treated RA and lupus patients. B cells are responsible for making antibodies that, in a healthy person, target invaders such as bacteria and viruses. But when a person has an autoimmune disease, the B cells also target healthy cells, leading to the body’s self-destruction of tissues and internal organs.
Hence, ongoing studies in the Sanz laboratory are aimed at differentiating protective and dangerous B cells and improving ways to safely target those that induce disease.
Sanz is continuing to study how B cells function, how the body regulates them and how they can be managed to control diseases and chronic infections including HIV and malaria. He seeks to create targeted B cell therapies and identify subsets of autoimmune diseases. He is also aiming to develop biomarkers that predict and measure the effects of different drugs in patients.
Sanz has developed and validated robust protocols for polychromatic flow cytometry. He has identified more than 20 B cell populations and five subsets of antibody-secreting cells. He and his collaborators have compiled a database of normal B cell homeostasis and its disturbances in a number of human diseases. Some of the B cell signatures can be found in the early stages of a disease and have shown significant predictive value for the development of future disease flares.
These findings provide the basis for ongoing studies aimed at understanding: 1) the origin and functional properties of different B cell populations; 2) the transcriptional and regulatory mechanisms responsible for their homeostasis; and 3) the role of disease-related autoantigens in the selection of different B cell subsets. Sanz is especially interested in understanding the properties of autoimmune memory B cells and their contribution to acute autoimmune responses.
Sanz was drawn to Georgia by the medical and immunological community at Emory, along with the support of GRA and the Lowance Center for Human Immunology at Emory, where he serves as director. He also was eager to work in a collaborative arrangement with Emory’s departments of medicine and pediatrics, Emory Healthcare, and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.