When inflammation is the enemy

Macrophages digesting cellular remains © A Celada’s group. IRB BarcelonaIRB Barcelona sets up a system in mice to study the behaviour of key cells in the inflammatory process, namely macrophages, in cancer models.

The next Barcelona BioMed Conference brings together leading international experts in inflammation and disease.

Macrophages digesting cellular remains © A Celada’s group. IRB Barcelona

In less than five years, inflammation has become one of the most active fields in biomedical research worldwide because of the growing body of scientific evidence that this process is associated with disease of high incident such as cancer and cardiovascular and metabolic alterations, such as atherosclerosis and diabetes. On 25, 26 and 27 October, the Barcelona Biomed Conference “Macrophages and Inflammation”, organised by the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and the BBVA Foundation, will bring together 20 world authorities in the field of inflammation at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans. The conference has generated much interest and will bring together more than 150 participants, national and international, in a think tank atmosphere. Among these figure the editors of the leading specialised scientific journals Nature Inmunology, Nature Reviews in Immunologyand Immunity of the journal Cell.

Organised by the scientists Antonio Celada, from IRB Barcelona, and Alberto Mantovani, from the Università degli Studi di Milano, this event will offer an interdisciplinary forum for researchers interested in macrophages, the key cells in the immune response of the organism, and in acute and chronic inflammation, which is associated with the development of several diseases. Fourteen researchers from leading centres in North America and six European scientists will present their most recent work on the molecular bases of the inflammatory process.

When inflammation is the enemy

On most occasions inflammation is a lifeguard that helps our body to fight a number of illnesses cause by wounds, bacteria, viruses and parasites. When a microbe invades our organism, inflammation orchestrates a defensive attack against the invader and the tissue that may have been infected. Very quickly afterwards, the process slows down and healing occurs. “But sometimes, the process, which is headed by macrophages, simply does not stop at the right moment and inflammation becomes chronic”, explains Antonio Celada, research physician at IRB Barcelona and an expert in the biology of this kind of cell. “When this occurs, inflammation attacks the organism, producing a series of later effects that appear to be behind a wide range of diseases depending when the failure occurs, either during the pro- or during the anti- inflammatory phase of the process”, says Celada.

About 400 genes are involved in the distinct phases of inflammation. “Knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that govern the immune response is crucial in order to discover new therapeutic targets and to develop drugs”, he goes on to explain. Celada’s lab, in collaboration with that managed by Roger Gomis, who heads a metastasis research group in the same centre, has set up a system in mice to study the role of macrophages in inflammatory diseases, including cancer. According to several studies, macrophages play a positive role in cancer, favouring the formation of blood vessels and contributing to its spread. One of the objectives of this study, currently being prepared by researchers at IRB Barcelona, is to detect the genes involved in the process and to identify possible therapeutic targets.

Lupus, atherosclerosis, metastasis, diabetes, Alzheimer’s

Among the guest speakers at the conference, special mention is given to Argyrios Theofilopoulus, director of the Department of Immunology at the Scripps Research Institute in the United States. Theofilopoulus will present his recent findings on the role of macrophages in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (or Lupus), a chronic autoimmune disease that affects several organs, mainly the heart, skin, lungs, liver and kidneys. 

Ira Tabas, from Columbia University, will talk about the mechanism and consequences of macrophage apoptosis (cell death) in atherosclerosis, a syndrome that affects arteries as a result of a chronic inflammatory response which causes plaque formation inside the arteries, consequently causing them to narrow. 

Jeffrey W. Pollard, from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of New York, the United States, will talk about the role of macrophages in tumour progression and metastasis, and will provide new data that link cancer and inflammation. 

Jorge Moscat, from the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, the United States, will give a presentation that supports the hypothesis that inflammation during obesity and cancer is crucial for the development of insulin resistance and tumour progression.

Finally, Christopher K. Glass, from the University of California, United States, will give a talk on his specialised field, namely the study of inflammation in relation to neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Multiple Sclerosis.

Mantovani at the BBVA Foundation in Madrid

The co-organiser of the conference, Antonio Mantovani, will give a presentation at the head offices of the BBVA Foundation, in Madrid, on Thursday 28 October. Entitled “Inflammation: the 7th hallmark of cancer”, Mantovani’s presentation will explain how inflammation in the microenvironment of the tumour contributes to the proliferation and survival of malignant cells, angiogenesis and metastasis. According to Mantovani, the study of the relation between inflammation and cancer will bring about innovative diagnostic methods and therapeutic strategies.