As a surfer, Dr. Carl Ware rides on the surface of the sea. In the lab, he does a deeper dive—into the ebb and flow of the immune system. The ocean, every surfer knows, can be both friend and foe. Time a wave just right, and you can take a joy ride along the crest of paradise. One wrong move, though, and that beautiful breaker will toss you into a tumbling, humbling wipeout. A lifelong surfer, Carl Ware, Ph.D., experiences those two sides of the ocean on a near-daily basis. And as a full-time scientist, he sees that same dualistic power in the entity he’s spent his life studying: the immune system. “The immune system is a friend; without it, we couldn’t live on Earth,” says Ware, director of the Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases Center at Sanford Burnham Prebys. “It helps protect us from all sorts of pathogens, and even cancer. But when the immune system sees an individual’s normal tissue as foe, autoimmune disease develops.” Learning how to navigate that delicate friend-foe line has been the focus of Ware’s 40-year research career. To do so, he and his research team take their cues from some of the planet’s foremost immune system experts: viruses. “No one knows the immune system better than viruses,” Ware explains. “They’re our teachers. By studying them, we can understand how the immune system functions, and then design therapies to either turn on the immune system, or turn it off.” BALANCING ACT One type of those immune system “teachers” are the herpes viruses. Best known for causing cold sores or chickenpox, this group of viruses can stay with a person for life, despite a strong immune system attack. “The viruses have evolved techniques—tricks, if you will—that allow them to establish latency, where they hide out in certain cells,” Ware says.
Carl Ware, Ph.D., is director of the Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases Center