ISNI President: Amit Bar-Or

16 April 2021
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Who are you and where are you from? My name is Amit Bar-Or, originally from Israel, studied medicine at McGill University in Montreal, followed by internship, Neurology residency and neuroimmunology fellowship training at Harvard and MIT in Boston. I spent almost 20 years as a clinician scientist at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) where I also served as Institute’s Associate Director for Translational research, prior to moving to Philadelphia in 2017 to serve as a neurologist and neuroimmunologist at the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), where I direct the Centre for Neuroinflammation and Experimental Therapeutics (CNET) and serve as chief of the Division of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and related conditions.

Where is your lab/team based and how many people are there?  My lab, situated in the Stemmler  building, at the heart of Penn’s lovely university campus, currently has 2 clinician-scientist instructors, 4 post-docs, 3 PhD students, and 2 undergraduate students (from Penn’s immunology, physiology, neurobiology, experimental medicine programs), as well as rotating medical students and residents, in addition to our trusty Lab manager, several technicians and research assistants.  Our growing Center is an age-span program geared towards understanding and treating both pediatric and adult immune-mediated neurological conditions. We have over a dozen lab-based investigators with an enthusiastic ‘neuroinflammation community’ of over 100, interested in areas spanning fundamental neurobiology, immunology, virology and imaging sciences with a focus on translational themes for neuroinflammatory and autoimmune conditions. Our lab-based research efforts dovetail with our large clinical program, where our team of over 15 clinicians follows approximately 5000 patients with MS and related disorders, with a clinical care multi-disciplinary team approach.

Your research program in (more than) one sentence? My own lab is interested in elucidating principles of human immune regulation (particularly T cell, B cell, and myeloid cell interactions and cross-modulation) in immune mediated-diseases with a focus of those involving immune-neural interaction, and contribution to inflammation, injury and repair of the human CNS. Translational emphasis studying the biology in well characterized patients provides unique windows into the roles of inflammation across a growing range of neurological, neurodevelopmental and psychiatric conditions, helps elucidate mode-of action of emerging therapies, and develop clinically meaningful biomarkers in advancing precision medicine.

What has attracted you in neuroimmunology? And Why? (Please specify basic research and/or clinical research). My early interest in academic medicine was relatively ‘undifferentiated’ until, like many, I was inspired by particular clinical and research mentors and – through them – attracted to the clinical field of neurology/multiple sclerosis (MS) and the to the science of neuroimmunology. The MS field had just transformed from being ‘yet another untreatable neurological condition’, to one that for the first time could be treated – albeit only partially. There was a great sense that ‘more could be done, if only we understood more’, and there was (and still is!) the exciting challenge of tackling the interface between two individually complex and rapidly evolving fields of immunology and neuroscience. The combination of basic and translational/clinical research that we pursue continues to be inspired by the theme that ‘we can do even better’ to understand, limit, halt and ultimately reverse immune-mediated neurological injury.

What is the most exciting part of your job? Trying to figure out what is ‘going on’ inside patients with autoimmune/neuro-immune conditions … and seeing new discoveries through eyes of trainees.

What would be your best advice for young researchers in neuroimmunology? Listen to your mentors but pursue your passion 😊. Sure, successful pursuit of science benefits from great mentorship, talent, and tenacity (‘fire in the belly’); there is also luck involved – and sometimes it’s a matter of timing… but passion prevails! And pursuing it will make you happier.  Oh – and strive to design each experiment so that you will learn something important even if incremental, whether results are ‘positive’ or ‘negative’!

Any area(s) of specialized expertise open for collaboration? Multiple! In addition to continually evolving approaches and basic projects in cellular and molecular human immunology, glial biology/2-photon and neuroimaging science, translational collaborative opportunities include teaming up in studies of human immune monitoring, biological proof-of-principle studies, investigations of therapeutic mode-of action studies, and biomarker development.

If available, add any openings for Masters, PhD students, or postdoctoral/training opportunities?  Our undergraduate and graduate students generally come in through Penn graduate programs that (people apply to first and then match disciplines). We have been building an age-span fellowship training program in neuroinflammation (including basic, translational and clinical tracts); we have been privileged to be receiving multiple excellent applications. Our own funding is still limited – securing external funding is a definite strength!

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