In autoimmune diseases, the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells. Common examples of these conditions are type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Currently, there is no cure for the more than 80 autoimmune conditions known and treatment can only improve symptoms.
With its prevalence increasing worldwide and most autoimmune diseases having very long-term effects on health, placing a large burden on the individual, the NHS and society, research into these conditions is more important than ever.
Alex has been awarded the Wellcome Trust Clinical Research Career Development Fellowship to expand his research on metabolism in autoimmune conditions. Specifically, his research programme aims to understand how metabolism might be modified in new treatment approaches to autoimmune diseases using state of the art techniques such as mass spectrometry imaging.
Alex's project will address how immune metabolism varies at the single cell level, in time and space, in vivo, and in disease, a process which is almost unknown and which can hold the key to targeted treatment approaches.
"I'm grateful to the Wellcome Trust for the chance to explore how immune metabolism is actually determined in tissues, and to understand how this differs in autoimmune disease. I hope that this will provide insights which can be translated into new therapeutic approaches", said Alex.
Alex's award represents another step towards the Kennedy's expansion in clinical research, a strategic move by the institute being led by Professor Chris Buckley, Director of Clinical Research at the Kennedy.
"Alex is the first of what we hope will be an increasing number of clinician scientists working at the Kennedy helping to bridge the gap between translational and experimental medicine. As a consultant Rheumatologist Alex sees patients with Lupus at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre. He will therefore help link the Kennedy to the outstanding clinical research both in Oxford and as part of the Arthritis Therapy Acceleration programme", commented Professor Buckley.
Thomas has been awarded the Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellowship and will conduct his research both at the Kennedy Institute and the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology in the US.
His research will focus on the causes of damaging sterile inflammation following a period of lack of oxygen, known as ischemia, a major concern for example in liver transplantation and cardiovascular hypoxia. The key goal of the programme is to identify clinically useful strategies to limit harmful sterile inflammation following a number of medical events in which oxygen supply to organs is compromised.
"This fellowship is a fantastic opportunity to connect our research in Oxford with the LJI in San Diego to look into metabolic changes of the immune system following hypoxia that induce sterile auto-inflammatory disease", said Thomas.
Both Alex and Thomas are currently postdoctoral researchers in Professor Katja Simon's group.