Hope restored: The critical role that Minimal Residual Disease can play in blood cancer patient care

A conversation with Katie Lowe, 2022 WISE Award winner


Katie Lowe, PhD

Flinders University, College of Medicine and Public Health, Department of Rheumatology

Research Summary: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects approximately 1% of the population worldwide, but due to the huge variability in RA biology upon patient presentation and a lack of clinical guidelines directing the application of treatment, current treatments for RA are based on a best guess scenario, which results in insufficient remission for many patients. Cellular infiltration of synovial tissue (ST) is a hallmark of RA and different patients exhibit synovial tissue infiltrated by different cell types. One reason behind this variation may be the differing antigenic triggers within the joint, which cause differing immune cell infiltration in different patients. This project aims to investigate the hypothesis that TCR diversity differs between RA patients with extensive lymphoid infiltrated ST and patients without lymphoid dominant ST infiltration. A more detailed analysis of TCR diversity, in patient subgroups will improve our knowledge of disease progression and may provide an improved understanding of treatment response.

Established in 2020, our annual Women in Immune Science (WISE) Award supports women, and those who identify as women, pursuing innovative research in immunology. WISE Award recipients receive a grant of $15,000 towards the purchase of Adaptive’s immunosequencing services to assist in their research.

We recently spoke with Katie Lowe, PhD at Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health, about her research, which aims to characterize the TCR diversity in lymphoid infiltrated synovial tissue (LIST) patients with rheumatoid arthritis to provide an improved understanding of disease progression and treatment response.

Adaptive Biotechnologies: How will this grant enhance your current research project?

Katie Lowe: This grant will allow me to expand my research examining the variation seen in different rheumatoid arthritis patient groups. Rheumatoid arthritis is an extremely varied, chronic, autoimmune disease, in which multiple immune cell types infiltrate the synovium (the tissue that lines the joints). The work of our research group is focused on synovial tissue biology and rheumatoid arthritis pathogenesis. My work involves examining cellular infiltration and the cellular interactions that contribute to inflammation. The ability to analysis TCR diversity in patient subgroups is a novel area of research for our lab and a very exciting avenue to be able to explore.

Examining differences in clonal diversity between patients whose synovial tissue is dominated by lymphocyte infiltration and in patients whose tissue is dominated by other immune cells and comparing cells in the periphery to those in the target organ of rheumatoid arthritis (the synovial tissue) will provide us with fascinating insights into the pathogenesis of this disease.   

Adaptive: What do you hope to achieve over the course of your career?

Katie: I hope to develop individualized patient specific treatments to improve outcomes for patients with autoimmune diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis is just one of many complex autoimmune diseases in which patient outcomes could be improved. Understanding the variations in the underlying biology seen in different patients could be the key to improving treatment responses. New drug developments have improved outcomes for many patients, but individualized treatments and improved treatment-targeting strategies could dramatically improve the quality of life for the many millions of people affected by autoimmune conditions. 

Adaptive: What impact do you see your research having on the field at large?

KatieI hope that this research highlights some of the differences between different patient groups and leads to further interest in developing targeted treatment strategies and clinical guidelines for the application of treatment. I expect that this work will lead to insights into the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis and lead to further research and investment into examining the triggers and flares of this disease in different patients. This could lead to novel treatment strategies for rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. 

Adaptive: What advice do you have for women pursuing careers in science as they begin their careers and/or research journeys?

Katie: Trust your gut instincts. Never doubt your abilities. Embrace every opportunity that comes your way. Even if you are asked to work on something that may not be one of your main interests, don’t underestimate the skills that you may learn and people you may meet, which could be very useful to you in the future.

“I would like to thank Adaptive Biotech for this award. I am extremely lucky to have a job I love and awards like this will enable me to continue my research and hopefully fulfill my dream of improving outcomes for patients with autoimmune diseases.”