11:59am Sunday 20 August 2017

Research reveals how immune cells can be altered to help fight inflammatory diseases

The research by Dr Kris Clark, in the Medical Research Council Protein Phosphorylation Unit (MRC-PPU) at Dundee, concentrated on the activity of macrophages, which are cells of the immune system that defend the body against infection by bacteria and viruses.

Dr Clark found that an enzyme called SIK is active in suppressing the production of anti-inflammatory molecules. By ‘switching off’ the function of SIK within the cell, he was able to greatly enhance the production of beneficial anti-inflammatory molecules.

The research suggests that drugs that switch off SIK may improve current therapies for treating inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis.

“These are very exciting times for our research,” said Dr Clark. “This discovery represents the first link between SIK and inflammation. My immediate future goal is to characterize in more detail the roles that SIK plays in the immune system and how they are affected by compounds that switch off this enzyme.”

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA.

Macrophages are cells of the immune system that defend the body against infection by bacteria and viruses. However, once these invading pathogens have been destroyed, the inflammatory responses triggered by macrophages have to be stopped, to avoid the development of chronic inflammatory diseases.

Macrophages also play key roles in terminating the inflammatory response by switching on the production of so-called anti-inflammatory molecules.

Kris discovered that the production of anti-inflammatory molecules by macrophages is prevented by an enzyme called SIK and that, by turning off the function of SIK within the cell, he was able to greatly enhance the production of beneficial anti-inflammatory molecules while stopping the production of the molecules that cause inflammation.

Working with the Drug Discovery Unit at Dundee, Dr Clark has now started to develop molecules which could provide the basis for drugs to turn off SIK.

“My studies have greatly benefitted from working in the multi-disciplinary and collegial environment that has been built up in the MRC Unit, the Scottish Institute for Cell Signalling and the College of Life Sciences at Dundee,” said Dr Clark. “My interactions with the scientists who work here and the advice they have given me has not only been invaluable for this project, but also most enjoyable.”

NOTES TO EDITORS

For almost 100 years the Medical Research Council has improved the health of people in the UK and around the world by supporting the highest quality science. The MRC invests in world-class scientists. It has produced 29 Nobel Prize winners and sustains a flourishing environment for internationally recognised research. The MRC focuses on making an impact and provides the financial muscle and scientific expertise behind medical breakthroughs, including one of the first antibiotics penicillin, the structure of DNA and the lethal link between smoking and cancer. Today MRC funded scientists tackle research into the major health challenges of the 21st century. www.mrc.ac.uk.

 

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