The Esterhazy lab will explore how intestinal infections can trigger an immune reaction in the pancreas. Dysfunction in pancreatic immunity can lead to life-threatening disease: An overactive immune response can destroy insulin-secreting pancreatic cells, leading to diabetes, while an underactive response can permit the aggressive growth of pancreatic cancer. How immune cells access and respond to this tissue is a critical question. As a postdoctoral fellow, I traced the lymphatic vessels that carry white blood cells to and from the upper small intestine and found that some of the lymph nodes into which these vessels drain are shared with the pancreas. Intriguingly, these are the most immunosuppressive lymph nodes in the entire digestive system. However, when the intestine becomes infected, the lymph nodes switch to being pro-inflammatory—and thereby could also hijack pancreatic immunity. Now, using techniques in microbiology, immunology, and molecular biology, my lab will determine how lymph nodes deal with draining multiple organs for mounting appropriate immune responses, most notably if alterations in food, gut bacteria, and infections of the upper small intestine are sufficient to trigger diabetes in mice through common lymph node drainage. We will also assess whether intestinal infection can be used to enhance immunity against pancreatic cancers. Our findings could lead to a new approach to treating pancreatic disorders, including diabetes and cancer.