UCI News

UCI researchers win funding to shed light on interactions between metabolism, immunity

June 13, 2021
UCI researchers win funding to shed light on interactions between metabolism, immunity
Michelle Digman (left), UCI associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Jennifer Prescher, UCI professor of chemistry, have been appointed as co-principal investigators on a project funded by The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group to research the connections between metabolism and the human immune system. Photos by Wesley Koseki and Steve Zylius / UCI

The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group has named two UCI researchers as Allen Distinguished Investigators. Michelle Digman, associate professor of biomedical engineering, and Jennifer Prescher, professor of chemistry, were among 10 academic experts chosen this year to explore the relationship between metabolism and the human immune system. The UCI scientists were made co-principal investigators on a project to develop a new technique to shine “biological flashlights” on various immune- and metabolism-related molecules at the same time. “The optical tags we engineer will be used to light up proteins and processes in mammalian immune systems. Our imaging system is able to survey multiple optical tags over time, noninvasively, and across length scales to monitor the interactions between immune function and metabolism,” Digman said. “Once complete, our toolkit will be available for any lab to use.” Said Prescher: “In this new research project, we will focus on developing tags for use in a type of immune cell called a macrophage, a white blood cell that engulfs and destroys bacteria and other unhealthy materials in the body.” She added that this method will be useful in researching other kinds of cells and tissues. As Allen Distinguished Investigators, Digman and Prescher will jointly receive $1.5 million over three years for their project. They are the first UCI scientists to be funded by The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group.