Skip to main content

Acteria Doctoral Prize in Allergology

Dr. Martijn Schuijs

Belgium, BIS. PhD 2017 "The Pathogenesis of House Dust Mite-driven Asthma: From Barn to Bedside"

Martijn Schuijs, 33, received his MSc. in Immunology and Infectious diseases from Utrecht University (The Netherlands). During his studies he obtained an Erasmus placement grant which allowed him to conduct his research project in the laboratory of prof. Peter Openshaw at the National Heart and Lung Institute (Imperial College London, UK), studying helminthic immunomodulatory proteins in RSV-infection. Subsequently, he obtained his PhD in Medical Sciences in the lab of prof. Bart Lambrecht at the VIB-Ghent University (Belgium). After receiving an EMBO long-term post-doctoral fellowship, he moved to the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute in the lab of Dr. Tim Halim. He has authored or co-authored 21 papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals, like Science, Nature Immunology, Immunity and the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

During his PhD, Dr. Schuijs’ research focussed on unravelling the pathogenesis of house dust mite-driven asthma. He demonstrated that loss of microbial exposure in the modern society contributes to the increase in asthma prevalence. Dr. Schuijs revealed that mice exposed to farm dust or lipopolysaccharide showed significantly lower asthmatic responses to house dust mite (HDM) than controls. This protection appeared to be mediated by a protein called TNFAIP3/A20 which modifies communication between the epithelial cells lining the lungs and the immune system. This confirms the importance of structural cells and the NF-κB signalling within these cells, in the process of type-2 immunity to HDM. These findings were validated with human biopsies and in Genome-wide association studies. Altogether, these results provide the first evidence of a biological mechanism behind why children who grow up on farms develop fewer allergies. Dr. Schuijs was further involved in the development and characterization of the HDM-specific TCR transgenic 1-DER mice, which expresses a TCR specific to the Der p1 peptide of HDM. Using this newly developed model he could describe the role of a distinct population of IL-21-producing CD4+ T-cells in the lungs. He demonstrated that IL-21 provides cell-intrinsic cues for Th2 T-cell function and synergizes with epithelial derived IL-25 to promote airway eosinophilia. Highlighting an important function for IL-21-producing CD4+ T-cells in allergy, subsequently showing that asthma is more heterogeneous than the classical view of a Th2-disorder.

Dr. Schuijs recently finished his first postdoc in the lab of Dr. Tim Halim at Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute (UK), on the role of ILC2’s in anti-tumour immunity. He investigated the interplay between the activation of Innate type-2 lymphocytes (ILC2) and the development of lung metastasis. In the summer of 2020, he will continue his research on anti-tumour immunity at the VIB Inflammation Research Center (Belgium).