Rachel Bonami, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology and Immunology in the Vanderbilt University Medical Center Department of Medicine.
Dr. Bonami’s research program focuses on identifying autoantigen-specific B cells to define their phenotypic and functional attributes in people at risk for type 1 diabetes, patients with spontaneous autoimmune diseases such as myositis and Sjogren’s syndrome, and patients who develop autoimmunity following immune checkpoint inhibitor therapy.
In the Bonami Lab, her team works to develop approaches to harness autoreactive B cells as more selective biomarkers and identify pathways to target to limit autoreactive B cell survival and function.
Autoimmune diseases are frequently marked by autoantibodies, which signal immune tolerance checkpoint breach by autoreactive B cells. We do not fully understand the immune system “glitches” that push B lymphocytes to inappropriately respond to autoantigens, engage autoreactive T cells, and/or morph into autoantibody-secreting cells. Dr. Bonami’s translational research program takes advantage of access to several unique clinical cohorts (e.g. Type 1 Diabetes TrialNet and Myositis, Scleroderma Treatment Initiative Center (MYSTIC)) and cutting-edge hybridoma and single-cell RNAseq/CITEseq/BCRseq technology to address these critical questions. Her laboratory is also applying these techniques to investigate a new autoimmune syndrome resembling Sjogren’s syndrome that can occur in cancer patients treated with checkpoint inhibitors. Her lab interweaves wet-lab experimental approaches with computational analyses to define B cell phenotypic and immune repertoire changes associated with these autoimmune processes.
Dr. Bonami has shown that anti-insulin B lymphocytes can be selectively eliminated using a monoclonal antibody to prevent type 1 diabetes in a preclinical model. This work received a Faculty of 1000 recommendation and suggests that such an approach holds promise for the prevention of type 1 diabetes without exposing patients to broad immunosuppression.