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Elise Liu Receives 2024 AAAAI Foundation Faculty Development Award

February 26, 2024
by Serena Crawford

Elise Liu, MD, PhD, instructor of medicine (rheumatology, allergy and immunology) at Yale School of Medicine (YSM), was named a recipient of a 2024 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (AAAAI) Foundation Faculty Development Award.

The three-year grant supports the development of junior faculty by funding research that will strengthen the allergy and immunology specialty and positively impact patients.

“The award will allow me to further develop my skills in various areas, including obtaining funding, running experiments, and balancing the different aspects that go into building a research program,” Liu said. “It’s nice to have protected time to progress toward becoming an independent investigator.”

With this grant, Liu plans to make her first foray into invariant natural killer T-cell biology.

“In preclinical models, we found that a lipid called a-Galactosylceramide—a-GalCer for short—turns on invariant natural T cells, and this activation causes the production of both peanut IgA and peanut IgE, potentially leading to food allergies,” Liu explained. “I want to find out if there is a similar lipid that humans are getting exposed to—either through food or microbes—that can explain the rise in food allergies.”

For the duration of the grant, Liu will work with her primary mentor, Stephanie Eisenbarth, MD, PhD, associate professor adjunct, whose lab she joined in 2018 to research the role and production of IgA in food allergy. As a lab member, Liu has made fundamental discoveries that further our understanding of antibodies to food, Eisenbarth said.

“She is an outstanding immunologist who will have a substantial impact,” Eisenbarth said. “The work proposed in this career development grant will answer important questions about the role of invariant natural killer T cells in food allergy.”

Liu’s research article “Food-Specific Immunoglobin A Does Not Correlate With Natural Tolerance to Peanut or Egg Allergens,” published in Science Translational Medicine, details an important discovery, says Insoo Kang, MD, professor of medicine (rheumatology, allergy and immunology) and director of Allergy and Immunology.

“She now embarks on furthering her research on the mechanisms of food allergies by investigating invariant natural T cells,” he said. “I am excited about this because she is a superb researcher and clinician, and her work could provide novel insights into the mechanisms of food allergies, leading to the development of new therapeutic approaches.”

Food allergies are on the rise, especially in the U.S. and in other industrialized countries around the world. They now affect approximately 10 percent of Americans, or 32 million people across the country, Liu notes.

“Despite that, there is very little comprehension of how these allergies develop,” Liu said. “I hope to contribute to our understanding so that we can target food allergies in a new way.”

Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Internal Medicine Section of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology is dedicated to providing care for patients with rheumatic, allergic, and immunologic disorders; educating future generations of thought leaders in the field; and conducting research into fundamental questions of autoimmunity and immunology. To learn more, visit Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology.

Submitted by Serena Crawford on February 23, 2024