Dr. Ziegler joined BRI in 1997 and started a lab working to deconvolute the immune system’s fundamental mechanisms, establishing a basis to develop groundbreaking new therapies. His work focuses on understanding the factors that govern normal immune regulation and their implications for disease development and progression. It spans two main areas: investigation into the genes and cell populations involved in controlling autoimmune-type responses and the exploration of the role of epithelial cytokines (TSLP and IL-33) in responses to infection and allergen challenge in barrier tissues such as the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.
“Steve has been a driving force behind many significant immunology breakthroughs that have paved the way for better therapies for cancer, asthma and other immune system diseases,” says BRI President Jane Buckner, MD. “He embodies BRI’s ethos of collaboration and working across diseases — that is working together to identify the underlying cells and processes that lead to disease, and exploring how we can alter those processes to predict, prevent, reverse and cure not just one disease but all immune system diseases.”
Dr. Ziegler’s research into the cytokine thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) opened the door to a life-changing asthma treatment and holds great promise for cancer breakthroughs. He was part of a team that discovered TSLP plays a key role in asthma, which lead to the development of a medicine that treats asthma by blocking TSLP. This was the first ever medicine to target the root cause of asthma, rather than just treating the symptoms. It also offered an effective treatment for two types of asthma that are very difficult to treat. In the context of cancer, his team discovered that TSLP acts as a growth and survival factor for breast and colon cancer. They also found that blocking TSLP prevented spread of the cancer to the lungs in lab models of breast cancer. This work shows the way to develop new therapies to treat these cancers.
Additionally, Dr. Ziegler’s research into a gene called FOXP3 paved the way for BRI’s research into engineering regulatory T cells to treat autoimmune diseases. This innovative approach aims to engineer a person’s own cells to treat – and potentially cure – autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and other immune system diseases.
Previous winners of this prestigious recognition include Nobel Laureates James Allison and Tasuku Honjo.