Klaus Ley, MD, is the Georgia Research Alliance Bradley Turner Eminent Scholar in Immunology, co-director of the Immunology Center of Georgia, and a professor in the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.
Ley is exploring the role our immune response plays in atherosclerosis, and his aim is to develop a vaccine and drugs that leverage human immunity to tackle the disease.
For more than two decades, Ley has applied his knowledge of immunology to understand the role that immune cells play in atherosclerosis. White blood cells swim in the blood, helping to protect the body from infection. To do their job, they must adhere to the blood vessel wall. In a chronic disease like atherosclerosis, this happens over and over again, eventually making the lumen narrower and the wall harder. So, instead of helping to solve a problem, the immune cells turn against the body — they actually hasten the atherosclerosis process.
It is this autoimmune reaction – and how to prevent it or reverse it – that Ley thinks is key in reducing the risk of atherosclerosis beyond what current drugs and lifestyle changes can achieve.
Unlike a vaccine for COVID-19 or measles, which prime the body against an external pathogen, Ley is working on what is called a “tolerogenic” vaccine for atherosclerosis. The aim of a tolerogenic vaccine is to prevent or reverse an autoimmune reaction. His team has already shown, in model systems, that a pathway exists for this vaccine to guard against atherosclerosis. They now need to identify the exact equivalent component that will have the same success in humans, who have a much more complex immune system.
Ley believes a discovery by his team may well lead to new drug treatments for atherosclerosis in the next few years. In a 2022 paper published in Science, he describes a new class of olfactory (smell) receptors, some of which are important in atherosclerosis. They found that some of the same smell receptors in our noses are also present in immune cells inside the lining of our arteries. These immune cells, called macrophages, can use these receptors to detect the presence of a chemical called octanal that is generated when fats and cholesterol accumulate in the arteries.
Octanal – which, incidentally, is what causes foods to smell rancid when left out in the heat – can start an inflammatory response in the macrophages. When this happens, the researchers found, atherosclerosis worsens.
Areas of Expertise (6)
- Biophysical Society
- American Heart Association : Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology Council
- American Heart Association : Council on Basic Cardiovascular Sciences
- American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering (AIMBE) : Elected Fellow
- American Association of Immunologists : Member
Media Appearances (7)
JENNIE: MCG Immunologist explains the importance of flu shots
While the spread of COVID-19 is on the decline, cold and flu cases are quickly picking up steam. New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows influenza activity ramping up. So now is the time to start developing healthy habits, like washing your hands. According to the CDC, the single best way to reduce the risk of seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. It’s also important to practice healthy habits, like avoiding people who are sick and covering your face when you cough or sneeze.
Moving Innovation Beyond the Walls
Georgia Trend print
If you think of research as something that happens in an ivory tower in Athens (or Augusta, or on Atlanta’s North Avenue or in its downtown, or…well, you get the idea), then you’re right. Georgia’s research universities – Augusta University; Emory University, Georgia Tech and Georgia State University in Atlanta; and the University of Georgia in Athens – are home to scholars, engineers and scientists who pursue the kinds of breakthroughs that win awards and generate papers in prestigious journals. And it’s not just those five institutions, either. Research that promotes discoveries in everything from healthcare to technology and aerospace happens across the state at institutions of higher learning. At Augusta University’s Medical College of Georgia, the Immunology Center of Georgia (IMMCG) is just getting off the ground. Co-directors Klaus Ley and his wife, Catherine “Lynn” Hedrick, were recruited in 2022 from the La Jolla Institute of Immunology to launch the IMMCG. Ley is one of the world’s premier researchers in vascular immunology, which focuses on the role the immune system plays in heart disease. Specifically, Ley says, he studies how the autoimmune response – which happens when the body mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues instead of invading bacteria or viruses – is involved in atherosclerosis (thickening or hardening of the arteries, caused by plaque building up in the artery wall).
MCG professors: Flu vaccines a safe, effective way to build a healthier future for Augusta
Augusta Chronicle print
In a world brimming with medical advancements and cutting-edge research, the Immunology Center of Georgia is advancing global progress in scientific innovation and health protection all from right here in Augusta. IMMCG, part of the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, is a research enterprise that pioneers ways for the body to marshal its immune defenders and attackers to defeat health threats. Unlocking the power and potential of the human immune system takes imagination, determination and collaboration, and we are ready for the challenge.
Mix at 3
Dr. Klaus Ley explains the importance of getting flu vaccinations.
Augusta University’s Immunology Center of Georgia enlists national experts to foster growth through Scientific Advisory Board
Augusta University Jagwire online
Klaus Ley, MD, and Catherine “Lynn” Hedrick, PhD, Georgia Research Alliance eminent scholars and co-directors of IMMCG, formed the SAB with an eye toward the future.
When regulatory T cells go bad
“Identifying exTregs in humans opens up more opportunities for research since patient material—like blood samples—are readily available," adds study senior author Klaus Ley, MD, co-director of MCG's Immunology Center of Georgia.
Power Couple: Local researchers studying the immune system to fight disease
We are talking about immunology and the research that is being done at the new Immunology Center of Georgia at the Medical College of Georgia. We talked to Dr. Lynn Hedrick in our first segment. The co-director of that center is her husband, Dr. Klaus Ley, and he’s been kind enough to join us for our second segment today. Dr. Ley, thanks, as I said to Dr. Hedrick, for your research and for what you’re doing to help us, hopefully, one day lead healthier lives.
Cell-autonomous regulation of complement C3 by factor H limits macrophage efferocytosis and exacerbates atherosclerosisImmunity
2023 Complement factor H (CFH) negatively regulates consumption of complement component 3 (C3), thereby restricting complement activation. Genetic variants in CFH predispose to chronic inflammatory disease.
Integrated single-cell analysis-based classification of vascular mononuclear phagocytes in mouse and human atherosclerosisCardiovascular Research
2023 Accumulation of mononuclear phagocytes [monocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells (DCs)] in the vessel wall is a hallmark of atherosclerosis. Using integrated single-cell analysis of mouse and human atherosclerosis, we here aimed to refine the nomenclature of mononuclear phagocytes in atherosclerotic vessels and to compare their transcriptomic profiles in mouse and human disease.
Sex-specific and immune-cell-specific contributions of beta2 integrins in myocardial ischemia-reperfusion injuryPhysiology
2023 Leukocyte recruitment and their mediated inflammatory responses are critical for cardiovascular diseases, including myocardial ischemia-reperfusion (I/R) injury, which accounts for 9% mortality and 10% morbidity rates in ischemic heart disease patients.