Preparing the body to better defend itself against health threats requires new approaches and unprecedented collaboration. This is what the Immunology Center of Georgia (IMMCG) promises to deliver.

Launched in 2022, the center maintains a sharp focus on how to strengthen the immune system’s ability to fight the nation’s two leading killers, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Significant contributions made by scientists here include:

  • Successful testing of a tolerogenic vaccine against atherosclerosis. A 2021 study led by Klaus Ley showed the vaccine proved effective in mice. This discovery helps inform a new approach to preventing heart attacks and strokes in people.
  • The discovery that white blood cells called monocytes can find and kill cancer cells. A 2015 paper by Lynn Hedrick and colleagues revealed that nonclassical monocytes have the capacity to seek out and destroy certain kinds of cancer cells (in a mouse model of metastasis).
  • Finding a way to identify the parent cells of neutrophils. This insight into progenitor cells – the origins of neutrophils – opens the door to controlling the production of the most abundant white blood cells in humans. Controlling their production is a potential way to tailor the immune response, notably in cancer, as some of the neutrophil parent cells appear in the blood of patients with cancer.
  • Discovering the presence of olfactory receptors inside macrophages in blood vessel walls. Olfactory receptors are good drug targets in many ailments. Finding these receptors in macrophages means they could be targets for treating cardiovascular and other diseases.
  • A discovery identifying CD4 T cells as orchestrators of attacks on the artery wall. The cells partly control an autoimmune response to lipoproteins in atherosclerosis, the pathophysiology underlying heart attacks and strokes.
  • New understanding of the differences in how the immune system in men and women responds to cardiovascular disease. The top 50 genes that are the main drivers in men are quite different from those in women. This insight offers a glimpse into how female and male immune systems differ.


Here’s what distinguishes the IMMCG in the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University:

We’re a new endeavor.

While our resident and affiliated scientists have a record of accomplishment, they are driven to build an ambitious and focused institute from the ground up. We are recruiting other researchers who share our enthusiasm, passion and vision for shaping a new kind of research enterprise. And preparing the next generation of immunologists is core to our mission.

We’ve got expertise in two areas of high-dimensional data analysis.

In mass cytometry, we developed new tools to collapse about 50 dimensions of data into just a few. We’re also creating algorithms to combine multiple CyTOF mass cytometry datasets to gain new insights into immune cell function in disease.

In single-cell RNA sequencing, we use an approach to match the surface makers on each cell with the gene expression in that same cell. Surface markers are detected by antibodies, which have some non-specific binding. We are developing methods to remove the non-specific binding and are improving methods to detect doublets, pairs of cells that stick together. Spatial transcriptomics allows researchers to locate each cell in a diseased tissue and reveal its gene expression.

We use artificial intelligence to deepen insight into data. The AI technology and methods we use reveal patterns that can then be validated by low-dimensional data methods, like flow cytometry or microscopy. This capability makes IMMCG a sought-after partner to other researchers who work with vast amounts of high-dimensional data.

We’re expansive thinkers with clearly defined targets. At our launch, our focus is primarily on cancer immunology, cardiovascular immunology and vaccinology. We have much to leverage in these areas, and we have our eye on how to apply what we’ve learned to other areas of health.

We want to see people benefit from our work. Our team is resolved to reduce health disparities in Georgia and the U.S., particularly in cancer mortality and incidences of cardiov

Context & Background

Augusta University, IMMCG’s home, has great strength in health care and immunology-related research.

  • A partnership with Wellstar MCG Health allows Augusta University to take part in innovative clinical care, training and research while adopting a successful model of community-based health systems and academic medical centers, such as MCG and its teaching hospitals.
  • Georgia Cancer Center unites research, clinical trials and patient care to serve the people of Georgia and beyond. Notably, the center focuses on helping rural and underserved populations.
  • Since 1995, the Vascular Biology Center has broken new ground in exploring cardiovascular disease. The center has the distinction of receiving a record number of multiple-investigator R01 grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Heart Association (AHA).


In 2022, the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University recruited highly acclaimed scientists Klaus Ley, MD, and Catherine "Lynn" Hedrick, PhD, from La Jolla Institute of Immunology to launch and build the Immunology Center of Georgia. Both were named Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholars, joining an academy of accomplished researchers who hold endowed chairs at Georgia’s private and public universities.