We have many Long and Short term goals we aim to accomplish within the next five years
Initially, work from the Ravichandran laboratory at the University of Virginia identified some of the key signaling molecules involved in apoptotic cell clearance and revealed their relevance in the context of mammals and C. elegans. Since then, several investigators at University of Virginia have also become interested in the problem of apoptotic cell clearance from different angles: such as cell clearance in the nervous system (Jim Mandell), apoptosis and its relevance to atherosclerosis (Leitinger and Ravichandran), turnover of cells in the gut and its relevance to inflammatory bowel disease (Peter Ernst and Ravichandran), insights on how amoeba can cause apoptosis and subsequently ingest these dying lymphocytes (Petri), clearance of apoptotic germ cells by Sertoli cells of the testes (Jeffrey Lyisak and Ravichandran), and addressing the importance of apoptotic cell clearance in autoimmunity (Ken Tung). Thus, there is now a critical mass of investigators at the University of Virginia who would be benefited from a focused and more integrated research effort on the topic of apoptotic cell clearance. Which lead to the birth of this Center for Cell Clearance.
In the past two years ~15 papers have been published on this topic, just in Nature, Cell, Science, Nature Cell Biology and Immunity. Thus, the apoptotic cell engulfment field is quite hot and perceived by the scientific community as having a large overall impact to many different areas.
Recently, the molecules and mechanisms involved in engulfment are beginning to be defined through a combination of genetics in C. elegans and Drosophila, mammalian cell line studies and mouse knockouts. This has provided a great opportunity to begin to pick apart this problem both at the molecular level and whole organism level and in the context of human disease.