Jörg Fritz, PhD, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Microbiology & Immunology at McGill University, Associate Member of the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute, and the new Director of the McGill University Research Centre on Complex Traits (MRCCT). He is focused on combining multiple streams of research to both treat and prevent infectious disease.
Prof. Fritz has been working in research labs since he was only 14 years old. “I went to a biochemistry high school in Austria, so lab environments have always felt like home to me,” said Prof. Fritz. “My general interest in immunology research was inspired by the fact that, as we have seen with COVID-19, mammals need to defend themselves and the immune system is at the heart of this.” Prof. Fritz was also struck by how the protective shield of the immune system can get it wrong and react to things in the environment with excessive force, causing detrimental immunopathologies. This fallibility underlies both allergies and asthma, which can be devastating in scope and cause serious health concerns.
From Austria to Canada
Prof. Fritz began his master’s degree at the University of Vienna in Austria where he worked at a startup company created by the chair of the University’s Microbiology Department. By the end of his Ph.D., the startup had grown into a full-fledged biotech company with over 120 employees primarily focused on vaccine development. Prof. Fritz made significant contributions during this time period, including helping to develop a new adjuvant (a component of vaccines that stimulates a stronger immune response), which is currently in clinical trials.
Prof. Fritz then transitioned into researching the innate immune system, which is the first line of defense used by the body against pathogens. He started at the renowned Pasteur Institute in Paris as a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Canadian scientist Dana Philpott, PhD. When Prof. Philpott moved her lab back home to Canada, Prof. Fritz decided to embark on the journey and continue his training at the University of Toronto in the lab of Jennifer L. Gommerman, PhD. Now, Prof. Fritz is applying his diverse research background to help shape the career of new immunologists in his lab at McGill University.
Research at McGill University
Prof. Fritz currently studies the immune system by combining research using animal models, cultured cells, and at the smallest scale, even individual molecules. This multi-level approach is critical to gain a more complete understanding of how the immune system functions. His main goals are working to develop better vaccines, exploring novel therapeutics to treat asthma and allergies, and researching how respiratory viruses cause lung tissue damage such as may be seen during long COVID.
Hopes for the MRCCT as new director
As the newest Director of the MRCCT, Prof. Fritz outlined that one of his inaugural goals is working towards better prevention and preparedness for the next pandemic. In the context of a post-SARS-CoV-2 world, Prof. Fritz hopes to continue growing the MRCCT to meet the challenges during this unprecedented time. Building a team of scientists and clinicians from diverse professional backgrounds will be an integral part of the strategy used by the Centre to be ready for the next global health crisis.