Jon Houtman, assistant professor of microbiology and chair of graduate admissions for the Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, studies how signals from outside the cell cause human T cells to change their behavior. T cells are required for the immune system to fight off infections. Along with their abilities to fight infections, T cells are implicated in the causes of many diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, allergies, asthma, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and transplant rejection.
Houtman's laboratory is interested in processes inside T cells that enable them to fight infections and how these events go wrong to cause disease. Houtman's research will help the treatment of human disease in several tangible ways. "It will assist us in understanding how T cells are induced to fight infections and how these normal functions go wrong in patients," Houtman said. "This will allow us to more intelligently develop new treatments for debilitating diseases. Also, this information will help us better predict how drugs currently being tested will affect T cells, leading to reduced side effects from these drugs."
Houtman benefits from the outstanding faculty at the UI. "The interactions I have had with faculty in the Department of Microbiology and the Interdisciplinary Programs in Molecular and Cellular Biology and Immunology have challenged me to think more about how my work fits into the big picture of the immune response to infection," Houtman said. "This has opened up new research directions and has made me better at applying for external research funds to finance my laboratory."