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Institute for Immunological Research (Cartagena, Colombia)

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The Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena is devoted to research and education in Clinical and Experimental Allergy. It has two graduate programs (MSc/Immunology and PhD/Biomedical Sciences) and supports the training in basic research of fellow in training from the Department of Pediatrics of the University of Cartagena, School of Medicine. Enrolled in these programs there are currently 22 PhD, 6 MSc and 8 undergraduate students. In addition, the Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena has four undergraduate programs in Basic and Clinical Immunology for the Schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy and Nursing.

The Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena is led by Professor Luis Caraballo MD, PhD and has a high quality scientific and academic staff including Prof. Leonardo Puerta, PhD; Prof. Josefina Zakzuk MD, PhD; Prof. Javier Marrugo MD, MSc; Prof. Beatriz Martinez MSc and Prof. Nathalie Acevedo MD, PhD. As a joint effort among national and foreign colleagues, well trained technicians, PhD and MSc students as well as specialty trainees and undergraduate students, the work of the Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena covers several fields of Basic Immunology, Molecular Genetics, Biotechnology, Experimental Allergy, Clinical Allergy, Epidemiology, Pediatrics and ENT.  

The research is focused on the genetic and environmental factors influencing allergy, especially in the Tropics. Since its foundation 22 years ago, the Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena has been an international pioneer in several lines of research such as the immunogenetics of IgE responses, the construction of cDNA libraries of house dust mites and helminth allergens and the clinical impact of mite/helminth cross reactivity. The production of hybrid house dust mite (HDM) allergen proteins potentially useful for diagnosis and immunotherapy, as well as the production of immunomodulatory molecules from helminthes and plants are the main applied-research activities.

There are also several ongoing projects on food allergy and asthma epidemiology; population genetics and human identification; molecular genetics of the IgE response and asthma and the identification and characterization of the allergenic potential of HDM and helminth IgE binding components, which could improve our accuracy for diagnosing and treating allergies. In connection with this and based on its expertise in genetic engineering the Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena has constructed a bank of recombinant allergens from several sources such as the HDM Blomia tropicalis and Dermatophagoides pteronyssinus, the nematode Ascaris lumbricoides, the mosquito Aedes aegypti and the flea Ctenocephalides felis.

The Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena is also involved in advocacy, working on education and assistance of patient groups as well as rural and urban communities affected by parasitic diseases and allergy. In the line of WAO mission and together with this organization the Institute for Immunological Research of the University of Cartagena is actively studying risk factors for allergic diseases in developing countries, most of them located in the Tropics. These activities have helped to better understand the high prevalence and real impact of allergy in countries where traditionally both allergic and parasitic diseases have been neglected.