Community Spotlight: Dr. Anthony Franchini, Kerafast Fellow at the University of Rochester

Anthony Franchini, PhD, is a postdoctoral associate at the University of Rochester who recently joined the Kerafast fellowship program. As a fellow, he works with both Kerafast and UR Ventures – the university’s technology transfer office – to help identify reagents which may be a fit for the Kerafast platform. He meets with other University of Rochester researchers to discuss Kerafast and then helps interested investigators list their materials online.

For Anthony, who spends most of his time studying how environmental factors modify immune system function, technology commercialization was an entirely new area. But that was what drew him to the Kerafast fellowship program.

“It’s an area of the life sciences that was completely new to me,” Anthony said. “I’ve spent my whole career working in laboratory settings, doing either clinical work or basic research. It has given me a healthy respect for translational research, and I feel like the Kerafast model is working to service the scientific community to push research along faster, to the benefit of researchers and patients alike.”

As a Kerafast fellow, Anthony receives real-life training in technology licensing and the business side of research. One of his first successes was helping Wei Hsu, PhD add his Wntless/Gpr177 antibody to the Kerafast portfolio. This purified polyclonal antibody recognizes a receptor required for the secretion of Wnt, cell signaling proteins that have become an active area of study.

Anthony arranged a meeting to introduce Dr. Hsu to Kerafast, explain the benefits of becoming a provider, and learn more about the Wntless/Gpr177 antibody. “His passion for the project and desire to share this reagent with the field shined through immediately,” Anthony said.

The two then worked together to add the antibody to the Kerafast platform, where it could be accessed by investigators worldwide. “The process was quick and very easy,” Anthony said. A week later, the first order for the antibody came in, from a researcher in Germany.

This month, we spoke with Anthony to learn more about his own research, as well as his goals for the Kerafast fellowship and beyond. Read on below for his interview.

1. Please describe your research. What are you investigating in your post-doctoral work?

My current project focuses on the impact environmental exposure to ligands of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AHR) has on primary immune responses in the lung during viral infection. The AHR serves as an environmental sensor and acts as a ligand-inducible transcription factor controlling gene expression. Though the AHR was originally characterized as a regulator of xenobiotic metabolism, it is expressed throughout the immune system and plays an important role in immune system activation and development. Numerous AHR ligands have been described to date, ranging from industrial waste products to tryptophan metabolites and flavonoids. Exposure to these ligands has been associated with an increase in respiratory infections and exasperation of asthma symptoms in adults, along with reduced humoral responses in vaccinated children. Activation of the AHR in mice results in blunted T cell responses, which are critical for resolution of primary influenza A virus (IAV) infection. There is compelling evidence that these changes are due to AHR-mediated changes to dendritic cell (DC) function, the antigen-presenting cells which serve as a link between the innate and adaptive immune responses. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that explain this defect in DC function are unknown and require further study. That is where I come in. My work focuses on how AHR activation alters DC function in the context of IAV infection, and how alterations in gene expression due to AHR activation affect the CD8+ T cell priming ability of DCs in vivo. Given that the same molecules and pathways influence DC function in disease states beyond fighting IAV, these findings have much broader implications for how the AHR regulates the function of DCs.

2. Why did you first become interested in this area of research?

My thesis project was focused on macrophage cell biology and other innate immune cells, so when I was researching potential labs to join as a post-doc, this seemed like a natural fit once I talked to Dr. Lawrence about projects in the lab and the direction the group was headed in. It also helps that I had absolutely zero knowledge of immunotoxicology and the AHR, which added to the intrigue. There was also the aspect of cross-training as both an immunologist and toxicologist, and working with a PI who has a great track record in training students and postdocs. All of these factors convinced me that a move to Rochester at this time would be great for my career and help me branch out into new and exciting areas of research.

3. What are you hoping to gain from the Kerafast fellowship program?

What I hope to gain from the program is multi-fold. Firstly, I knew this position would allow me to connect with more researchers and staff at my university, allowing me to network and meet people I would have otherwise never had a chance to meet. I am a very social person, and never turn down the chance to learn and talk science with new people. I was also very excited to have the chance to work with a team of fellows at other universities as well, which I hoped would be a good networking and team-building experience.

Secondly, I saw this as an opportunity to gain experience outside of the laboratory in a non-research capacity. I have spent my entire career in the life sciences, and this gave me to chance to work with a team of professionals with very different backgrounds than my own. It was also the perfect opportunity to build my resume beyond my research credentials in case I want to join a private company in the future.

Lastly, I took a look at the Kerafast model and knew it would immediately benefit so many researchers at the University of Rochester. We all know that funding levels are quite tight right now, so being able to provide a platform that keeps some really cutting-edge research funded and helps those labs prosper brings me a sense of purpose.

4. Why are you interested in the technology transfer and commercialization field?

Tech transfer and commercialization are areas we aren’t normally exposed to during graduate and post-graduate training and so it is an area that I literally knew nothing about when I first saw the call for applicants. That alone was enough to draw me in, let alone knowing that it would broaden my horizons outside of the laboratory.

5. What are your goals for the next stage of your career?

The goals for this stage of my career are to do good science and earn recognition for it, whether through successfully competing for funding or impactful publishing of our findings. From there, I would like the next phase of my career to be closer to making an immediate impact on human health, whether back in the clinical laboratory setting or being directly involved with the development and advancement of new therapies with a private company.

6. As you know, Kerafast’s mission is to advance life science research by facilitating access to unique bioreagents. Is there a mission outside of work that you are passionate about?

My wife Claire and I have an 18-month-old daughter, so teaching and taking care of her is my primary passion outside of the laboratory. Parenting has been and will continue to be the greatest adventure of my life.

For more information about Kerafast fellowships, or if you are interested in bringing the program to your university, please contact us at