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AbmR Scholarship Series: Humza Khan in the Butte Lab, UCLA

Updated: Jul 23, 2020

We are very pleased to announce Humza Khan is the recent awardee of the AbmR scholarship made possible by you, the donors. Humza is a talented UCLA undergraduate who has worked in Dr. Manish Butte’s lab at the University of California, Los Angeles for many months. This lab is at the forefront of cutting-edge immunology research.


In this article, we will take a tour through Humza’s exciting research. We will end with a Q&A where we learn more about the lab and his future plans as a student and scientist.


Mr. Khan (left) and Mr. Reilly (right)


Humza’s research in the Butte lab

There are over 400 primary immunodeficiencies (PIDs) currently known. These rare immune conditions are caused by inherited traits that alter proper immune system development and function. These disruptions can express themselves vary widely from person to person, so understanding and characterizing the immune-related cellular parameters is crucial to achieving an accurate diagnosis and designing an effective treatment.


Immune cell parameters can be effectively characterized by Cytometry by Time of Flight (CyTOF). This exciting tool uses mass spectroscopy to characterize over 40 cellular markers in a single experiment. Dr. Butte's lab is on the forefront of this line of research. A few years back, it was the first to delineate signaling abnormalities with patients suffering from PIDs using this technique.


In the Butte lab, Humza first worked to optimize the Basophil Activation Test (BAT). BAT is an in vitro assay that utilizes a method of measuring cell characteristics called flow cytometry. Humza used this method to measure the activation of basophil (a white blood cell) upon exposure to various stimuli. It is an important clinical tool for many immune conditions, including drug allergy, food allergy, venom hypersensitivity, and more. To this end, Humza worked on assays with whole blood studying allergy diagnostics with the goal of optimizing this test and ultimately creating a less expensive, more feasible, and less intrusive method of allergy diagnosis.


After several months, Humza then played an instrumental role in characterizing immune cells and establishing a CyTOF protocol. He first worked on creating CyTOF panels that allowed the study of virtually every circulating immune cell. He then set out to investigate the signaling pathways and cellular phenotypes of over twenty PID patients who work with Dr. Butte in a clinical setting. Within this project, Humza has gained valuable experience running whole blood assays, working with state-of-the-art cytometry tools, and performing data analysis.


If the functional cellular differences cells in these patients are better understood, more effective therapies can be specifically tailored to treat the conditions and more light can be shed on these mysterious conditions. We at AbmR sincerely believe this line of research will pave the way to transformational diagnostics and therapies in primary immunodeficiency disorders in the near future.


Sitting down with Humza


We talked to Humza about his experience in the lab, the scope of the work, and how his experience has shaped his future goals in science.


Can you tell us how your experience working in Dr. Butte’s lab has been?

Entering science is a leap. For 18 years before I joined the lab, I took exams and felt I knew science. Ever since I joined the Butte lab, I have found so much more. Every day, I learn something novel and amazing about the world. That isn’t to say my experience in research hasn’t been difficult -- because it has. But being around such a supportive, fantastic group of lab members has made it one of the best experiences of my life. I’ve gone from barely knowing how to pipette to actively working on experimental design and conducting independent experiments. Being in the lab has taught me more than most classes ever could have.


Can you tell us a little bit about the scope of the work going on in the Butte lab?

Our lab has pioneered a new way of looking at immunology. Not many people were looking at the functional mechanics of immune cells before Manish brought this paradigm about. I genuinely believe this new model will shift our understanding of how we get sick and how we can get better.


How has your experience in research influenced your future goals as a researcher?

In my main project, I get to use some of the most advanced techniques to understand peoples’ immunodeficiencies. This combination of bench research and clinical research is my end goal; I’ll be applying for MD/Ph.D. programs in hopes of becoming a physician-scientist. The AbmR scholarship is supporting this dream and I appreciate it incredibly!


Thank you!

We at AbmR would like to thank all of you donors for supporting high-caliber biomedical research and the next generation of scientists. We believe that connecting the cutting-edge science being done in biomedical research labs with the public is of the highest importance, and without you, our mission would not be possible.


References

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041413/

https://tcell.mimg.ucla.edu/projects.html#afm

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41571-019-0177-5

http://jcb.rupress.org/content/jcb/213/5/535.full.pdf


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