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Infection

Infections from viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites are significant causes of worldwide illness and death.

Our researchers investigate many significant infectious agents with the goal of reducing the global burden of infectious disease.

Our infectious disease research

Our researchers are working to develop better ways to prevent, diagnose and treat infectious diseases. Infections we study include:

Our research into particular infectious diseases is closely integrated with investigations into how our immune system responds to that disease. This is contributing to:

  • Advancing vaccine development to generate immune responses that prevent infections.
  • New strategies to treat infections through manipulating our immune response.

What are infections?

We are constantly exposed to many different types of living organisms in our environment. A small proportion of these are able to invade our body and live within us. When an invading organism makes us sick, this is termed an infection.

In some cases, organisms living within us are beneficial to our health. For example, many bacteria living in our bowel are important for digestion and are a source of certain vitamins. These ‘friendly’ organisms can also impede the entry of disease-causing infectious organisms.

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Inflammation

Inflammation is an early defense that protects our body from infection. However, ongoing or misdirected inflammation underlies many diseases.

Our researchers are revealing how inflammation is controlled, and advancing the diagnosis and treatment of inflammatory diseases.

Our inflammation research

Our researchers seek to understand how inflammation is controlled in health and disease. To do this they are investigating:

  • the molecules and cells that contribute to the initiation, magnitude and resolution of inflammatory responses
  • inflammatory pathways that are associated with disease
  • new strategies to treat harmful inflammation, and promote beneficial inflammation

The goal of our inflammation research is to advance strategies to diagnose, treat and prevent inflammatory diseases including:

What is inflammation

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to infection, disease and tissue damage. Inflammation is driven by immune cells, and also serves to heighten the immune response.

Features of inflamed tissues include:

  • redness and warmth, from increased blood flow to the area
  • swelling, from an influx of fluid
  • pain
  • immobility.

These symptoms of inflammation serve several important functions:

  • alerting and attracting immune cells to an area of potential infection
  • releasing substances that help to repair damaged tissue
  • immobilising the injured or infected tissue to reduce damage or spread of infection.

Inflammation can be acute, meaning it is rapidly resolved, or chronic, meaning it can persist for years.

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Immunology

Problems with the immune system are linked to many serious health conditions.

Immunology is the study of the system that protects our body from infections. Problems with the immune system are linked to many serious health conditions. Our immunology researchers are discovering how the immune system functions in health and disease.

Our immunology research

One-third of our research effort is devoted to immunology. Our researchers are:

  • Defining the basic functions of immune cells, how these cells develop, and how they are controlled.
  • Revealing what goes wrong in immune disorders including inflammation, autoimmunity, immune deficiency, as well as infectious diseases and cancer.
  • Developing new treatments for disease based on immune system modification.

What is immunology?

Immunology is the study of the immune system, which is comprised of specialised cells and molecules. These work together to protect our body from infection by bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. The immune system can also prevent the formation of some cancers.

Our immune system can stop most microbes from entering the body, and can stifle their growth and spread. Sometimes, the immune system cannot prevent an infection. Some microbes have developed sophisticated strategies to evade the immune system, allowing them to survive and reproduce within the body.

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Cell signalling

Our research into cell signalling aims to understand how different signals are transmitted, and their relevance to disease.

Cells in our body work together and respond to changes in their environment. Many proteins are involved in transmitting signals within and between cells. Disruptions to this signalling is the cause of many diseases.

Our research into cell signalling aims to understand how different signals are transmitted, and their relevance to disease.

Our cell signalling research

Our researchers are investigating cell signalling in healthy cells, to understand what goes wrong to cause disease.

Particular foci of our research are:

  • investigating proteins that enable cell signalling, and how these signals are switched off
  • defining the cell signalling pathways that trigger cell death and inflammation
  • understanding how cell signalling pathways are subverted in diseases such as cancer, immune disorders and infections
  • developing new treatments for disease that target key signalling molecules

What is cell signalling?

Our bodies are composed of billions of cells that work together. Each cell responds to external signals from other cells, and from its environment. Cell signalling refers to the translation of an external signal into a cell’s response.

External signals can include:

  • direct contact with other cells or structures
  • molecules that are secreted by other cells
  • viral or bacterial infections
  • nutrients, toxins or other molecules present in the environment.

Cells can have many different responses to external signals. A few examples are:

  • growing or dividing, or stopping division
  • becoming activated to perform a specific function (e.g. to kill bacteria or infected cells)
  • dying, or staying alive
  • moving or changing shape
  • secreting a substance.

A particular signal may elicit different responses in different cell types. A cell’s response to a signal may also depend on other signals the cell receives, or has previously received.

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Illuminate Summer 2023
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