(Originally published in ASBMB Today)
Ludmila Prokunina-Olsson, a tenure-track investigator at the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute, is the latest recipient ofThe Journal of Biological Chemistry/Herbert Tabor Young Investigator Award, given to her for the discovery of a novel human interferon, interferon lambda 4. Ludmila received the award in October at the meeting of the International Cytokine and Interferon Society in San Francisco.
As a graduate student in the lab of Marta Alarcon-Riquelme at Uppsala University in Sweden, Ludmila already was on her way to advancing the field of immunology through her studies on genetic susceptibility to autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Her interests in genetics and immunology brought her to the United States, where she joined the group led by National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins as a postdoc and identified molecular phenotypes of genetic susceptibility to type 2 diabetes using results from genomewide association studies.
The discovery of IFNL4 by Ludmila and the group that she now heads at the NCI is a matter of great excitement. “IFNL4 is unique among the human genes because it is created by a genetic variant present in 90 percent of individuals of African ancestry, 50 percent of Europeans but only 10 percent of Asians,” says Ludmila. Intriguingly, the presence of this interferon impairs the clearance of certain infections like hepatitis C virus. Ludmila and her group continue to explore the role of IFNL4 in other conditions, such as infections, immunity and even cancer.