Monday, 24 October 2011
Research being undertaken at the University of Adelaide and Women's and Children's Hospital is providing vital clues into the causes of autoimmune diseases which affect millions of people around the world.
The University of Adelaide's Children's Research Centre has been awarded $2 million to investigate new therapies to reverse autoimmune disease in patients, including multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and type 1 diabetes.
The Federal Government grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) comes on the eve of the University's inaugural Research Week (28 October - 4 November) which demonstrates the impact of research on the lives of people locally, nationally and globally.
Associate Professor Simon Barry, who is Leader of the Autoimmune Diseases Stream at the Children's Research Centre and Chief Hospital Scientist at the Women's and Children's Hospital, will use a $1.02 million NHMRC grant to advance his groundbreaking research on how the body's immune system works, identifying specific genes which are critical players in immune tolerance.
He collaborated on an international study recently published in Nature Immunology which shows for the first time the mechanism by which the body regulates itself to maintain a healthy, functioning immune system.
"An autoimmune disorder occurs when a person's immune system accidentally attacks their own body tissues, mistaking some part of the body as a pathogen," Dr Barry says.
"Using cutting-edge techniques we have now identified a gene which needs to be repressed to maintain a healthy immune system. If it is not, it results in inflammation of other cells, leading to autoimmunity diseases.
"The next step is to design targeted therapies to silence this gene in disease states and reverse autoimmunity diseases in patients with malfunctioning immune systems."
Dr Barry's work is complementary to that of Professor Jenny Couper, the Director of the University's Children's Research Centre, who will use a $1.08 million NHMRC grant to lead a new national project to find why type 1 diabetes in children is increasing.
Type 1 diabetes - one of the most common autoimmune diseases - has doubled in incidence among children in Australia over the last 20 years.
The projects are among a record 61 health and medical grants awarded to the University of Adelaide in the past week by the NHMRC, totalling nearly $45 million.
"Relative to size, this was the best result of any Australian university," said the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Professor Mike Brooks.
Research Week at the University of Adelaide kicks off this Friday 28 October with a series of public events, giving the community an opportunity to better understand the impact of research on ordinary people. For more details go to: www.adelaide.edu.au/research-week