Business Insider, an international news site, has named the biggest discoveries in every state in America, and Virginia’s comes straight from the lab of UVA’s Jonathan Kipnis.
This is a list, mind you, that includes things such as “the first phone call” and “first flight.” Among those lofty accomplishments is Kipnis’ game-changing discovery of a previously unknown connection between the brain and the immune system.
The discovery overturned decades of scientific teaching, which had long held that there was no direct link between the brain and the lymphatic system. The presence of tiny vessels connecting the two, as identified by Kipnis and UVA’s Antoine Louveau, transformed how scientists think about the brain and the immune system’s relationship to it.
The finding could have a profound impact on how we treat neurological diseases ranging from autism to multiple sclerosis to Alzheimer’s. “We believe that for every neurological disease that has an immune component to it, these vessels may play a major role,” Kipnis said at the time of the discovery in 2015.
Since then, Kipnis’ lab has continued to pump out major follow-up discoveries. In one, he and his colleagues found that the membranes surrounding the brain contain a rare and powerful type of immune cells that may play a critical role in battling Alzheimer’s, meningitis and other neurological diseases. In another, he found that the immune system can influence behavior, such as the desire to interact with others. That’s a far cry from the longstanding notion that the brain was walled off from the immune system.
Based on that last finding, Kipnis now suspects that immune-system problems could contribute to an inability to have normal social interactions. That could be of great import in conditions such as autism-spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.
It’s all amazing stuff, with implications that will unfold for many years to come. It’s for good reason the Business Insider map of the United States has a brain hovering over Virginia.