Faculty Directory

Ignacio Sanz, MD

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Ignacio Sanz, MD, is a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Human Immunology and directs Emory’s Lowance Center for Human Immunology. An expert in lupus research, he also is Director of the Division of Rheumatology in Emory School of Medicine and a Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics. 


Research Interests

My main interest is understanding how the immune system goes awry in autoimmune diseases and ends up attacking our own tissues rather than concentrating on fighting infections. In particular, we are very interested in understanding the roles played in autoimmune diseases by B cells and their effector progeny, the plasma cells responsible for producing the autoantibodies that in many cases cause the disease. My research concentrates on Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus) but we also investigate other autoimmune diseases such as Sjogren’s Syndrome, Rheumatoid Arthritis and Type 1 Diabetes.

Research Vision

My laboratory is focused on the study of human B cells and of anti-B cell therapies. I believe that a deeper knowledge of the diversity, function and regulation of human B cell populations will greatly improve our ability to understand multiple diseases including autoimmune diseases and chronic infections such as HIV and malaria. Tangible benefits that will derive from this knowledge include: 1) the recognition of different disease subsets; 2) the development of new B cell targeted therapies that can be rationally applied to the disease subsets more likely to respond (personalized medicine); and 3) the development of biomarkers capable of identifying discreet disease subsets and of predicting and measuring the specific effects of different drugs in treated patients.

At a larger level, we will develop a comprehensive program in Human Immunology. The Lowance Center for Human Immunology at Emory University and the Children’s Health Care of Atlanta (CHOA) have joined together in an initiative aimed at developing more effective and safer therapies for human autoimmune diseases. Moreover, we seek to contribute to and learn from other programs in which the immune system plays an important role including transplantation, immunodeficiencies, infections, vaccine responses and cancer.

In the Lab

Over the last few years we have developed a comprehensive toolkit for the study of human immune responses in a large variety of situations and diseases. Of special relevance we have developed and validated robust protocols for polychromatic flow cytometry which have enabled us with our collaborators to identify upwards of 20 B cell populations and 5 subsets of antibody-secreting cells. With this knowledge, we have compiled a comprehensive database of normal B cell homeostasis and its disturbances in a number of human diseases including Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, Type 1 Diabetes, Renal Transplant and HIV infection. Using these databases we have identified different B cell fingerprints for different diseases. Moreover, some of the B cell signatures identified correlate with early disease stages in some autoimmune diseases (such as Sjogren’s Syndrome) and have significant predictive value for the development of future disease flares.

These findings provide the basis for ongoing studies aimed at understanding: 1) the origin and functional properties of different B cell populations; 2) the transcriptional and regulatory mechanisms responsible for their homeostasis; 3) the role of disease-related autoantigens in the selection of different B cell subsets. We are very interested in understanding the properties of autoimmune memory B cells and their contribution to acute autoimmune responses.

Research Center(s)