Uncovering our immunity

Words by Katie McCall

Image by iStock/Design Cells

The University of Manchester is home to a world-leading community of immunology and inflammation experts, working together to address the some of the most pressing global healthcare challenges.

Named after the celebrated scientist and women’s rights advocate, the Lydia Becker Institute of Immunology and Inflammation unites a hugely diverse range of experts with one common goal: advancing modern medicine to help us live better, healthier lives.

“Immunology underpins the majority of human disease – I can’t think of a single disease where it’s not important,” says Professor Tracy Hussell, Director of the Lydia Becker Institute. “Our work focuses on understanding fundamental immune processes within the complexity of the affected organ, while accounting for the many diseases a patient may have at any one time.”

Treating the underlying causes of disease

More than half us will suffer with two or more long-term chronic diseases by the age of 65 and this presents a complex and costly healthcare challenge. The Lydia Becker Institute is identifying which chronic conditions patients have and whether there is a shared inflammatory mechanism.

Studying diseases together instead of as separate entities gives us greater understanding of how to treat the whole patient. There are well-recognised associations linking chronic inflammatory conditions, such as psoriasis, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis, with depression and anxiety disorders.

Barriers against disease

Our skin, lungs, gums and gut act as our body’s first barrier against disease. Evidence links inflammation of these tissues with the development of conditions ranging from respiratory infections, inflammatory bowel disease to gum disease, highlighting the importance of our immune system’s role in maintaining good overall health.

Manchester’s researchers are looking to understand how immune cells work at each of these barrier sites so that we can tailor more effective treatments in these specific locations.

Brain inflammation

Inflammation is our body’s reaction to infection and injury where it acts as part of the recovery and repair process. However, in certain cases such as stroke, inflammation causes the destruction of brain cells, leading to death or disability for many patients. We’re identifying new treatments that can be established to improve outcomes for stroke patients.

The Institute’s research also explores the relationship between brain inflammation and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s so that we may ultimately reduce their impact.

Understanding tissue complexity

Matrix is the tissue which surrounds and supports our cells, accounting for one third of our body mass. Our research is helping to understand the interconnectivity between matrix and our body’s immune system, pinpointing the ways in which our cells are equipped to respond to immune signals.

Research into the immune responses that support tissue repair following recovery from lung infections and injury has the potential to transform our understanding of infections, chronic disease and our body’s ability to heal.


Parasitic, bacterial and fungal infections

Every year, infections cause millions of deaths and illnesses across the world. While vaccination succeeds in fighting certain types of infection, there are many others which are resistant to vaccines, making our immune system our most powerful defence tool.

Manchester is internationally renowned for fungal, parasitic and bacterial research. Our focus is on combatting the spread of disease through protective immunity and new anti-parasitic drugs.

Find out more about the Lydia Becker Institute

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