Initiative Life Sciences

The Sean N. Parker Autoimmune Research Laboratory at UCSF

The Opportunity

Autoimmune diseases are devastating conditions in which the immune system, normally a detector and defender against foreign invaders such as viruses and bacteria, goes awry and attacks the body’s own tissues and organs. There are more than 80 autoimmune diseases, ranging from type 1 diabetes to multiple sclerosis to rheumatoid arthritis. They affect between 14 and 22 million Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health, and their incidence is rising. In 2001, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases pegged the annual cost of treating all autoimmune diseases in the US at $100 billion. Although there has been intensive research into the commonalities of these otherwise diverse diseases, the underlying causes of the conditions are largely unknown, and drug development has been extremely slow.

The Initiative

The Sean N. Parker Autoimmune Research Laboratory at UCSF is led by Professor Jeffrey Bluestone, one of the leading immunologists in the field of T-cell activation and co-stimulation. The lab will study approaches based on the concept of immune tolerance. Rather than suppressing immune function—the mode of action of many drugs for autoimmune diseases—immune tolerance therapies aim to halt or even prevent autoimmune diseases, while preserving the disease-fighting capabilities of the immune system. Moreover, these therapies are designed to “reprogram” the immune system, with the hope that a short course of treatment will have long-lasting, perhaps lifelong, effects. Members of the laboratory will study direct Treg cell-based therapies as well as drugs such as IL-2, anti-CD3 and others that shift the balance from a disease-causing immune response to one that is dynamically controlled. In addition to their relevance to autoimmune diseases, research advances from the laboratory may also open the door to new treatments for immune consequences following organ transplantation and even for non-immune diseases, such as heart disease, muscular dystrophy and obesity.


Jeffrey Bluestone, PhD
  • A.W. and Mary Margaret Clausen Distinguished Professor of Metabolism and Endocrinology
  • Director of the UCSF Hormone Research Institute
  • University of California San Francisco