Translating Understandings of Immunity for Clinical Benefit

The immune system provides defence against pathogens such as viruses and bacteria and underpins a wide range of non-communicable diseases from allergy to cancer.  A proper functioning immune system is therefore fundamental to health and wellbeing. Our approach is to elaborate the basic science of immunity and translate this to clinical benefit. This is achieved through research efforts to better understand cellular and molecular mechanisms driving immune cell function and identify  how these pathways become dysregulated in association with disease. In parallel, we seek better diagnostics and therapeutics based on these insights and through interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health.

Researcher looking at genes

Immunobiology and Immunopathology Research Focus

The Immunobiology and Immunopathology Sub-theme are focussed on a variety of immunity related areas, exploring the changes in immune function in pregnancy, the metabolic reprogramming and immune system evasion in Cancer.

Linked to our work on novel diagnostics in obstetrics our goal is to ensure that any tests we develop are accessible and applicable to pregnant women in low and middle-income countries. This means working closely with countries such as Uganda and Viet Nam to develop and test our technologies and to elaborate the underpinning biology of differences in disease prevalence in pregnant women of different ethnicity. Our efforts chime with the aspirations of UN Sustainable Development Goal 3 to promote good health and wellbeing at all ages.

Research Outcomes

We have recently identified that the sugar fructose supports heightened inflammation by a key population of cells known as monocytes. These cells have an important role in our early immune response to pathogens and are associated with an increased inflammatory state in obesity and are linked to obesity-associated diseases. We also found that these hyperinflammatory cells could be killed more easily and we are now exploring whether this can be exploited as therapy for COVID-19.

Researcher looking at sample
3 glasses of fizzy drinks

The Impact of Fructose on the Immune System

Fructose is commonly found in sugary drinks, sweets and processed foods and is used widely in food production. However, understanding the impact of fructose on the immune system of people who consume it in high levels, has been limited until now. We show that fructose causes the immune system to become inflamed and that process produces more reactive molecules which are associated with inflammation. The research also brings a deeper understanding about how fructose could be linked to diabetes and obesity - as low- level inflammation is often associated with obesity.


Protecting tissues against bacteria

Tissue damage is a common feature of bacterial diseases. Many species of pathogenic bacteria produce toxins that form holes in cell membranes, which can cause cell death. However, tissue cells vary in their ability to protect themselves against these toxins. We are uncovering the mechanisms that cells use to prevent damage.

We have found hormones and drugs that increase the resilience of cell membranes to the toxins. We aim to develop novel approaches to protect tissue cells against bacterial toxins to treat and prevent disease.

Affiliated Researchers

Dr James Cronin

Associate Professor, Biomedical Sciences
+44 (0) 1792 606409
Available For Postgraduate Supervision

Dr Nick Jones

Associate Professor, Biomedical Sciences
Available For Postgraduate Supervision

Professor Cathy Thornton

Personal Chair, Biomedical Sciences
+44 (0) 1792 602122
Available For Postgraduate Supervision