Mini-lungs to study viral-immune responses

Kia Niwha Leader Fellow
DR ANDREW HIGHTON

Andy Highton photo v2
Principal Investigator
Dr Andrew Highton
University of Otago (Otakou Whakaihu Waka)
Public Contact
Te Niwha
teniwhacomms@otago.ac.nz
Project Timeframe/Status
-
In Process

Whakarāpopoto Rangahau Summary of Research

Priority Theme: Diagnostics, Therapeutics
Discipline: Immunology

Mini-lungs are latest technology and grown as three-dimensional cellular structures from adult stem cells present in donated lung tissue or from lung wash fluid. They are highly representative of human lungs and can be infected with viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 (causing COVID19), influenza, and those that cause common colds, such as rhinovirus. This allows for the reaction of the immune system to things such as new viruses to be studied in the laboratory.

The immune system is the most important defence against viral infection. Of particular importance early in viral infection are immune lymphocytes known as natural killer cells. These can directly kill cells infected with viruses.

As part of the Kia Niwha Leader Fellowship, Dr Andrew Highton will undertake one-year research project to develop a system of mini-lungs and natural killer cells to create an accurate lung disease model system in the laboratory. This latest technology will allow for the rapid monitoring of emerging viral threats and an understanding of the immune component of viral defence in lung infections to, ultimately, provide greater protection for patients.

Kōtaha kairangahau Researcher Profile

Dr Andrew Highton
Principal Investigator
University of Otago (Otakou Whakaihu Waka)

Dr Andy Highton is a Research Fellow at Otakou Whakaihu Waka, the University of Otago, where he is researching ways to understand and improve gut health specifically relating to inflammatory bowel diseases and colorectal cancer. He has had previous positions at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and at the Leibniz Institute of Virology in Germany. While overseas, he researched immune functions in viral infection and how cellular metabolism is linked to immune potency. This included in-depth study of natural killer cells, an immune first line of defence against viral infection. In Germany, he also used mini-lung culture techniques to study sex differences in COVID-19 outcomes.  

Dr Highton believes impactful research outcomes can come from working directly with patients and their communities. As a Kia Niwha Leader Fellow, he will use his accumulated knowledge and this principle to create a platform to study human lung disease, weaving together facets of lung physiology, immunity and viral infection. This model of human lung disease will be used to better understand lung infections, with potential for use against emerging threats, and with the ultimate aim of improving health outcomes for New Zealanders now and in the future. 

Project Status

In Process

 

Media Contact 

Te Niwha
teniwhacomms@otago.ac.nz