Qing Yu, MD, PhD
Associate Member of the Staff
Assistant Professor, Department of Oral Medicine, Infection and Immunity
Harvard School of Dental Medicine
Qing Yu is interested in understanding the immunological mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of several systemic autoimmune diseases that affect oral health, in order to develop effective and targeted therapeutic approaches for these diseases. One of her particular interests is the immunological mechanisms that control the pathogenesis of Sjӧgren’s syndrome.
Sjӧgren’s syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects 2-4 million Americans and greatly compromises the health and well-being of patients. The syndrome is characterized by chronic inflammation and dysfunction of the salivary and lacrimal glands with dry mouth and dry eyes as the primary symptoms. One consequence of Sjӧgren’s syndrome is increased susceptibility to dental cavities and many patients also suffer from systemic symptoms that are painful and even debilitating. There is no cure for the disease and current treatment primarily provides short term relief of discomfort.
Yu is conducting research to identify crucial factors that affect the development and onset of Sjӧgren’s syndrome, and to facilitate the development of novel diagnostic and treatment strategies. One major project investigates the role interleukin-7 (IL-7), a protein secreted by stromal and epithelial cells that is often elevated in various autoimmune disorders including Sjӧgren’s disease. IL-7 plays a crucial pathogenic role in multiple autoimmune diseases through enhancing the self-attacking T helper 1 and T cytotoxic 1 responses. Yu is investigating the functions of IL-7 and its targets in the development and the chronic persistence of Sjӧgren’s syndrome and to define the genetic and environment factors that cause excessive IL-7 production. Another project studies the factors that can protect the integrity and function of the exocrine glands in Sjӧgren’s syndrome, with IL-6 and Wnt-b-catenin being the main targets. A third project aims at elucidating the complex function of natural killer (NK) cells, which may be the earliest initiators of Sjӧgren’s disease. With her work, she is hoping to provide crucial information and a foundation for the development of novel therapeutic strategies, both by curtailing the harmful autoimmune responses and by protecting the integrity and normal function of exocrine glands.
“I am hoping my research leads to better treatment for the millions of people suffering from Sjӧgren’s syndrome,” said Yu. In the long term she also hopes to find ways to prevent the onset of the disease. A significant number of people with Sjӧgren’s also have rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, two other autoimmune diseases that Yu is interested in studying. Both rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are among the most common autoimmune diseases and both are life-threatening, extremely painful and costly. Yu hopes that the knowledge obtained from her research will advance the basic, translational and clinical study of these disorders and also provide insights into many other immune-mediated diseases.
Peking University Health Science Center, PhD, 1997, Immunology
Peking University Health Science Center, MD, 1992