Dr. Haroon Shaikh Wins Prestigious EBMT Basic Science Award 2024 for Breakthrough in Graft-Versus-Host Disease Research

Haroon Shaikh, PhD from the lab of Prof. Andreas Beilhack at University Hospital Würzburg received the distinguished EBMT Basic Science Award 2024 for groundbreaking findings on how blood vessel cells in lymph nodes trigger the feared alloreactive T-cell response after hematopoietic cell transplantation. This discovery paves the way for innovative therapies against acute Graft-versus-Host Disease (GvHD).

Dr. Haroon Shaikh delivering his lecture at the Presidential Symposium during the 50th Annual Conference of the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation in Glasgow. Image courtesy © EBMT

At the 50th European Congress of the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation (EBMT) in Glasgow, Dr. Haroon Shaikh was honored with the prestigious EBMT Basic Science Award 2024. Representing the Beilhack lab at the University Hospital Würzburg and our DFG TRR221 GvH-GvL consortium Erlangen-Regenburg-Würzburg, Dr. Shaikh uncovered that blood vessel cells in lymph nodes activate alloreactive CD4+ T cells, thereby initiating acute GvHD.

This discovery offers new avenues for treating patients post-allogeneic stem cell transplantation. “A series of rigorous experiments revealed that endothelial cells in lymph node blood vessels can trigger the dangerous immune response,” explained Dr. Shaikh. “These findings present several new therapeutic strategies to enhance leukemia patient outcomes.”

Dr. Shaikh’s award-winning research, titled “Lymph Node Blood Endothelial Cells Prime Alloreactive CD4+ T Cells in Acute Graft-Versus-Host Disease Initiation,” was recognized for its outstanding contribution at the EBMT Congress. Alongside the Basic Science Award, Dr. Shaikh also earned the Young Investigator Award, while his colleague Juan Gamboa Vargas, also from the Beilhack lab received a Best Young Abstract Poster Award.

“These accolades underscore the vital importance of basic research in preclinical models and patient sample analysis for enhancing current therapies and devising entirely new treatment strategies,” said Prof. Beilhack. “The Basic Science Award is especially motivating for our team, and it is an invaluable boost for Dr. Shaikh as he embarks on establishing his own research group.”

Prof. Hermann Einsele, Director of the Department of Medicine II, and speaker at Würzburg University Hospital for the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Center Transregio 221 “GvH-GvL,” commented: “Being awarded this prestigious European research prize for the second time in three years validates that we are on the right path to significantly advancing cancer immunotherapy.”Haroon Shaikh from the Beilhack lab receives the EBMT Basic Science Award 2024

Building on the new discovery, the research team plans to pursue three new directions based on these findings: examining similar blood vessel cells in the bone marrow for targeted immune responses against cancer, investigating whether lymph node endothelial cells also present antigens from surrounding organs to alloreactive T cells, and exploring strategies to alter antigen presentation by lymph node blood vessels to prevent acute GvHD in patients. Image courtesy © EBMT

Link to the interview with Dr. Haroon Shaikh at the  EBMT TV Studio.

For more information, visit the press release in German.

The ongoing research  project is being funded by the German Research Council (DFG) research consortium TRR221 GvH-GvL at the Bavarian partner Universities of Erlangen, Regensburg and Würzburg.

Light sheet fluorescence microscopy (LSFM) reveals T cell-endothelial interactions to initiate acute GvHD

Blood vessel cells in secondary lymphoid organs activate alloreactive T cells, which trigger acute GvHD. 3D microscopy of the ileum reveals donor T cells (green) being activated in the lymphatic structures of the Peyer’s patches (ileum) after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation (allo-HCT). The blood vessels are depicted in red. Image courtesy © Haroon Shaikh and Zeinab Mokhtari, Beilhack Lab, Würzburg University Hospital, Germany