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In the next instalment of the MRC TIDU Spotlight Series, we are focusing on the Ho Group.

Close-up image of a man and a woman in a lab.

The Ho Group is a research group within the MRC Translational Immune Discovery Unit led by Professor Ling-Pei Ho. This group works on the immune mechanisms of lung injury, repair and fibrosis. Their research focuses specifically on two diseases: idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and sarcoidosis.

Researchers in the Ho group use newly available methods like tissue-imaging mass cytometry, multiplex analysis and single cell transcriptomics to map out the landscape of abnormal lung tissue. This high-resolution, high-accuracy work provides the group with the best chance of identifying relevant immune cells and mechanisms of disease in the lungs of patients with chronic fibrosis or severe lung injury. The ability to combine the transcriptomic data for every single cell seen within its tissue microenvironment gives the research team an unprecedented window into how that single cell might work and interact with the community of cells around it. This information is an important foundation for uncovering how different cells contribute to the development of disease.

Work within the Ho group spans from looking at the molecular pathways in immune cells to murine models to highly translational studies. For example, researchers in the group use hyperpolarised Xenon lung imaging to measure inflammation in the alveolar linings and human blood samples to identify immune cells that predict those with lung fibrosis that are more likely to deteriorate. The broad range of experience within the group, from data scientists and immunobiologists to clinical research fellows, allows findings at the molecular level to be cross-checked with those at the macro (patient) level.

A major advance from the group is the development of a high-resolution single cell lung imaging method using a 37-plex panel combined with a suite of mathematical tools (with mathematicians in the Maths Institute) to identify interacting cells in situ. This method identified a role for immature neutrophils in lung injury and alveolar regeneration in severe COVID-19 lung disease but will likely have ramifications beyond this disease.

The Ho group also works closely with members of the MRC WIMM Centre for Computational Biology and collaborators in the Mathematical Institute.

Speaking about the group, Professor Ho said:

In the area I am interested in (mechanistic science applied to human disease), I think the most accurate picture has to be built by a team that comprises people with many different skills, expertise and experience. We now have access to a wealth of data from single cell work but coming to a message, a true signal, requires highly experienced data scientists, clinicians, basic scientists,  in vivo studies and functional work. The challenge is to get everyone on board to see the big picture but also drill down into the hard work of interpreting, interrogating and understanding what we are seeing in our data. This needs time, commitment and teamwork. 

The MRC TIDU community is a key requirement for the kind of work we do. We are fortunate to work with amazing teams of scientists that talk to each other, help, challenge and enrich each other. The cutting-edge technologies, the figuring out, the development and the high expectations we have of each other drive us to do better, figure out better, and be better scientists every day.