Paul J. Bryce, PhD
- Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Allergy and Immunology
- Originally from Scotland, but has been at Northwestern for 12 years.
"The most rewarding part of my job has become training my graduate students and fellows."
Tell us a bit about your background.
I grew up in the town of Gourock, in the west coast of Scotland. I went to Strathclyde University in Glasgow for my undergraduate degree in immunology and pharmacology. After spending some time in a pharmaceutical company and 6 months as a phlebotomist at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary, I went to pursue my PhD at the University of Manchester. I worked with Professor Ian Hutchinson on the mechanisms of action of transplant rejection drugs. I supplemented my PhD stipend by doing phlebotomy service a few times a month at a hospital in Manchester! In 1999, I came to the US as a postdoctoral researcher and worked at Childrens Hospital in Boston.
How did you get started in research?
I started doing research when I was 17 years old and went to spend my summer vacations at The James Black Foundation in London. I was still in high school when I got to meet Sir James Black, who discovered beta-blockers and won the Nobel prize for his research. He gave me a job every summer while I was obtaining my undergraduate degree and it was an opportunity that shaped my life. My research now has moved more towards immunology but with therapy and medicine always in mind. I am interested in understanding why the immune response to allergens, especially food allergens, goes wrong in patients with allergic diseases. As a laboratory, we are all investigating some aspect of the biology of mast cells. These immune cells are critically involved in allergy and anaphylaxis and are best known for being the cells that release histamine. We’re trying to study how they respond, why they respond and how we can turn them off.
You were recently in the headlines for a major research breakthrough regarding peanut allergies. Can you tell us more about it?
The study that made the headlines recently was a collaboration with Dr. Stephen Miller in the Department of Microbiology- Immunology and took advantage of a natural surveillance system that our immune system uses to keep educating ourselves to what is “self” and what is not. This occurs in the spleen and samples the “self” proteins off the surface of our own dying cells during their removal from our bodies. We were able to fool the immune system into thinking peanut proteins were not dangerous by attaching them onto the surface of dying cells. Instead of reacting, the immune system not only ignored the peanut proteins, it actually generated special immune cells called Regulatory T cells, that we know are important for silencing immune reactions. At the moment, this study was the proof-of-concept and was done in mice but Steve Miller has shown this works for autoimmune diseases also and has it in a clinical trial right now for patients with multiple sclerosis. If those studies prove safe and efficacious, we hope to move this approach into food allergy trials.
Where can we find you after hours?
A lot of my closest friends are scientists or clinicians and I combine work with life outside the lab in a way that many people find difficult to understand. In my case, it is hard to turn off the thinking about science and I know it has shaped many other aspects of my life- both for better and for worse I love the craft beer bar scene that has exploded in Chicago over the last few years and so can be found at Hackneys, Villians or The Old Oak Tap, to name a few.
"Even during my interview, I knew that Bob Schleimer and I were on the same page as far as the role of research in medicine and that Northwestern would be a great place for me to build my career."