Tom Taghon

“Characterization of molecular pathways that drive human T cell development”

Tom Taghon was born in 1975 in Belgium. He obtained a Master of Science in Biotechnology in 1997 and a PhD in Medical Sciences in 2002, at Ghent University.

The granted project is entitled: “Characterization of molecular pathways that drive human T cell development”.  During development, the acquisition of different cell fates is orchestrated by a complex interplay of cellular events, regulated by different molecular pathways. One of these recurring and conserved signalling cascades comprises the Notch pathway. During blood cell development, it is the major driving force for T lymphocyte development. Within the immune system, T cells are critical for regulating responses against invading pathogens and tumour cells. Occasionally, our immune system fails and disease occurs. For a number of clinical settings (HIV infections, leukaemia and cancer), novel therapeutic approaches are required for improving current therapeutics. Furthermore, in cases such as after myelo-ablative therapy and bone marrow transplantation, T cell reconstitution is late and very inefficient. Using a novel in vitro research tool, the goal of this proposal is to provide novel insights in to normal human T cell development. This will be achieved through a detailed analysis of the effects of several molecular cascades that govern T cell development and their interaction with the Notch pathway which serves as the central player. Because of the frequent involvement of Notch in T cell-Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemias, results can be immediately translated into this clinical model, providing potentially new targets for therapeutic strategies. Importantly, through the experimental approach used, we will be able to optimize the in vitro culture conditions for human T cell development, a necessary step to open up the path towards the generation and design of antigen-specific T cells, designed at targeting for example HIV infections and tumour formation through cell therapy. Finally, we aim at identifying the progenitor cells that reconstitute T cell development in vivo, in order to ensure their presence in hematopoietic stem cells transplantations and wish to expand these cells in vitro to reduce the immune compromised phase of bone marrow transplant patients.

The jury concludes that Tom Taghon has achieved a high profile and prominence within this current field of research in the study of early human T-cell differentiation. His scientific background and track record are superb. The proposal is very clear and challenging. The jury is convinced that it will yield groundbreaking results.