Prof. Piotr Trzonkowski – FNP PRIZE LAUREATE 2017
Prof. Piotr Trzonkowski from the Medical University of Gdańsk has received the Foundation for Polish Science Prize 2017 in the life and earth sciences for studies on regulatory T cells and their pioneering use in cell therapy of human diseases.
Born in 1974, Piotr Trzonkowski obtained his doctoral degree at the Medical University of Gdańsk in 2003. He completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Oxford, and in 2007 obtained a postdoctoral degree in Poland.
Professor Trzonkowski has headed the Medical University of Gdańsk’s Department of Clinical Immunology and Transplantology since 2009. He has been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago and maintains international collaborations with centres in the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States.
He has received numerous domestic and international awards: the Prime Minister’s Prize, the Health Minister’s Prize, the Prize of Department V of the Polish Academy of Sciences, prizes from the Polish Gerontological Society, the Polish Society of Experimental and Clinical Immunology, the Transplantation Society, the Polish Diabetological Association, the Pro Transplantationibus Fovendis Polish Transplantation Society as well as a Silver Cross of Merit. He has been a beneficiary of the Foundation for Polish Science’s programmes: START and HOMING/POWROTY.
Prof. Trzonkowski has authored 114 works which have been cited more than 2,000 times. His paper on the clinical application of TREG cells was published in the prestigious Science Translational Medicine journal. He is a member of the editorial boards of the journals: Transplantation, Frontiers in Immunology, Paediatric Reviews, Immunotherapy, Biodrugs.
The Foundation for Polish Science Prize 2017 was granted to Prof. Piotr Trzonkowski in recognition of his achievements in designing and developing cell therapy suppressing the immune system, and using it in patients with spectacular success. He used regulatory T cells – TREG lymphocytes – to fight untreatable autoimmune diseases.
TREG lymphocytes occur naturally in the human body and are responsible for what is known as immunological tolerance. They are like police making sure the immune system’s white blood cells fight effectively with microorganisms without also attacking the body’s own cells and organs. If we have too few TREG lymphocytes, white blood cells start “shooting” at our own thyroid, pancreas or brain. This is how diseases like type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease and multiple sclerosis develop. This immunological phenomenon is also of key importance in the case of allergies and the survival of transplanted organs.
A person whose immune system attacks the body’s own tissues and organs needs a whole “army of police” to halt the process. Professor Trzonkowski decided to draw some blood from a patient, cultivate TREG lymphocytes, and then transplant them back into the patient’s body. He was the first person in the world to use artificially cultivated regulatory cells in human therapy. In 2007, having complete faith in his method, Prof. Trzonkowski gave himself the first injections to find out if it was safe. As he puts it, he “survived in good health” and therefore could start administering the cells to patients.
Today Prof. Trzonkowski’s group is able to produce billions of new TREG lymphocytes in the laboratory from a very small amount of these cells taken from a patient. The lymphocytes do not undergo any modification in the multiplication process, and the cell preparation has very high purity, reaching almost 100 percent of TREG cells. Administering the preparation after a bone marrow transplant prevents the life-threatening graft-versus-host disease. In the case of diabetes, children undergoing this therapy require lower doses of insulin, and some don’t need to receive it for a long time after being diagnosed. Among other things, this helps delay the development of diabetes complications involving the kidneys or eyesight.
Research has also shown that TREG cells could offer real possibilities of treating other autoimmune diseases and preventing their development. Prof. Trzonkowski’s team is currently testing TREG lymphocytes in multiple sclerosis.
Research launched at various units around the world after Prof. Trzonkowski published his first findings also involves treatment of nonspecific intestinal inflammation, autoimmune eye inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus erythematosus and other connective-tissue diseases (collagenoses), bronchial asthma, rejection of transplanted organs, and even rare diseases like muscular dystrophy.
The Polish researcher has also shown that elderly patients respond poorly to vaccinations due to an accumulation of TREG lymphocytes.
In addition, he discovered that in certain conditions TREG lymphocytes inhibit some fundamental elements of anticancer immunity. Studies conducted by other teams developing this line of research have proved that this is extremely important in the spread of cancer. A recently introduced, new kind of oncological immunotherapy that “switches off” TREG lymphocytes in a mechanism described by Prof. Trzonkowski is significantly improving the curability of many kinds of cancer.
Prof. Piotr Trzonkowski conducted all the research for which he was granted the FNP Prize in Poland. What is ground-breaking about this research is that it covered the complete path from experiments to application in treatment. The method was patented and Polish scientists’ research on natural immunosuppression opened the way for scientists around the world to carry out academic as well as commercial projects.