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Cristy Gelling is Communications Director at the GSA, a science writer, and a lapsed yeast geneticist.
"The Picture of Health" by Jian Han

In 2014, the GSA journals launched a contest inviting image submissions related to genetics and genomics. The winning entry was created by Jian Han, of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, and appears on the cover of the May 2015 issue of G3. We talked with Dr. Han about the striking image:


What does the image represent?

This image, called “The Picture of Health,” is an Im²print of a healthy immune system. An Im²print is one of many ways to decipher the large amount of data that comes from studying an individual’s immune repertoire. It is a tree map, with each rectangle representing a unique gene combination coding for B or T cell receptors, and the ability to defend against a particular antigen. The larger the rectangle, the more expressed the gene combination. In theory, a healthy individual would have a diverse immune repertoire; thus, the tree map would show many differently colored rectangles all relatively equal in size. In unhealthy patients, however, the immune system is compromised and can be less diverse, so the individual is less prepared for defense  against disease. The tree map of an immunocompromised individual would most likely be dominated by a single rectangle or small group. Im²prints are not only a quick graphical representation of the overall diversity of an individual’s immune repertoire, but are also personalized artwork.

 

Why are imp2print tree maps useful?

Im2prints are visually stunning, especially when people realize that the image was generated from data collected from an individual’s immune system.  By comparing side-by-side images of immune systems of different people, the health of each person’s immune system is vividly visualized: The larger the rectangles, the less healthy the immune system, while greater diversity indicates a healthier system.  This idea is not only useful in research and the clinic, it is also pleasing to the eye of people interested in science and health and the use of science as art.

 

What is your current research focus?

My laboratory focuses on developing integrated solutions for molecular differential diagnosis. We are developing an integrated technology platform that allows multiplex molecular differential diagnoses carried out in a high-throughput, semi-quantitative, automatic, closed system. This high throughput diagnostic system relies on a multiplex polymerase chain reaction. We have developed a novel multiplex amplification strategy called amplicon rescued multiplex PCR (arm-PCR) that can be easily automated. The arm-PCR technology is roughly 100 times more sensitive than the previously developed tem-PCR method and is equally specific, providing an opportunity for the entire test procedure to be automated. This technology will allow physicians to diagnose microbial infection in just a few hours replacing current technology which sometimes takes several days.

For example, we’re developing a panel for influenza diagnosis. Rapid identification of the specific type of influenza virus causing infection is one of the most critical steps for controlling an outbreak and managing a pandemic. Such typing information provides healthcare professionals with data that can aid them in deciding which patients should be isolated and treated with Tamiflu, which should be vaccinated, and which should be released. These measures can limit the spread of the disease, ease public panic, and better allocate limited resources.

Another focus of my laboratory is mapping the personalized immunorepertoire.  By combining the last 30 years of improvements in monoclonal antibody development, multiplex PCR technology, high-throughput sequencing, and bioinformatics, our new technology has successfully overcome past challenges of studying the immunorepertoire.s. We are using this technology to analyze the immunorepertoires of autoimmune diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, and various cancers through an international collaboration called R10K, or Repertoire 10,000, partnered with HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. By studying the immunorepertoire, we hope to uncover possible disease mechanisms, identify new biomarkers, and develop new therapeutics.

About Jian Han:

Jian Han, M.D., Ph.D., is a faculty investigator at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Ala.. A native of China, he has a medical degree from Suzhou Medical College in JiangSu Province, China, and a Ph.D. from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In 1996, Han founded biotech company Genaco, the first company to introduce a Down syndrome prenatal screening and diagnostic service to China. During the SARS outbreak of 2003, Genaco developed technology and products for molecular differential diagnoses of infectious diseases. Han created a novel multiplex PCR technology, tem-PCR, that allows multiple molecular targets to be amplified in one reaction. He developed another multiplex method called arm-PCR for infectious disease diagnosis and immune repertoire analysis. In 2009, Han founded two biotech companies — iCubate and iRepertoire — to commercialize arm-PCR based applications.

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