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Professor Klaus Okkenhaug PhD

Professor Klaus Okkenhaug, PhD

Professor of Immunology

Head, Division of Immunology

Areas of Interest:

- Immunity

- Infection

- Cancer

- Immunodeficiency

- Cell Signalling

- PI3K

Department of Pathology
University of Cambridge
Tennis Court Road
CB2 1QP

Biography:

Klaus Okkenhaug became the Professor of Immunology in the Department of Pathology in October 2017. He obtained his B.Sc. in Biochemistry from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, followed by a Ph.D. in Immunology from the University of Toronto, where he studied CD28 signalling in Rob Rottapel's lab. In 1999, he moved to London, UK, where he joined Bart Vanhaesebroeck's group at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research as a Postdoctoral Fellow, working on the role of the PI3Kδ in immune responses. There he generated the PI3Kδ kinase-dead knock-in mouse, which showed a key role for this PI3K isoform in B cell and T cells, as well as in preventing colitis due to the role of PI3Kδ in regulatory T cells. Klaus joined the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Signalling and Development at the Babraham Institute as a Group Leader in 2003. His group investigates the role of cell signalling pathways in the immune system, with particular focus on the PI3K family of enzymes. In recent years, he has contributed to the description of a new primary immunodeficiency syndrome caused by activated PI3Kδ mutations (APDS) and his group demonstrated that deletion of PI3Kδ in regulatory T cells unleashes a potent anti-tumour response. 

Research Interests

Our group focuses on how a group of enzymes called phosphoinositide 3-kinases (PI3Ks) are used by cells of the immune system to instruct and coordinate defences against pathogens. Cells of the immune system can express up to eight different forms of PI3K, which act as second messenger signalling molecules within cells that control diverse of cellular functions and genetic programmes.

Our group tries to dissect the unique roles played by individual forms of PI3K with particular focus on their roles in B cells and T cells. We also ask what the effect of inhibiting or enhancing the activity of individual forms of PI3K has on immunity to infections.

Most of our work to date has focused on PI3Kδ. The activation of PI3Kδ is one of the first events that happen inside a T cell or B cell when it first is exposed to a foreign antigen. Because PI3Kδ is expressed at very low levels in other organs in the body, it is thought that targeting PI3K with drugs may be an effective way to suppress immune responses without some of the side effects associated with many immunosuppressive drugs in current use.

We therefore work closely with colleagues in pharmaceutical companies who have developed specific inhibitors against PI3Kδ or other forms of PI3K to help predict and understand the effect of such drugs on the immune system.