Research in Infection and Immunity spans departmental boundaries in Cambridge and also includes research institutes and centres of excellence such as the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research and the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology.
Although the following themes are presented as distinct entities, our approach is very cross-disciplinary and the Cambridge research community is highly interactive.
Research in Infection is both clinically and experimentally based and covers viruses, bacteria and eukaryotic parasites. The emphasis is on the understanding of invasion and transmission, including diseases and parasites particularly relevant to developing countries and the molecular biology and pathogenesis of viruses. Safe, protective and cost effective vaccines are a major goal.
Virology research at Cambridge covers viral pathogens of importance to man and economically significant animals. Structural and molecular biological techniques are used to elucidate aspects of the viral lifecycle and the way in which these pathogens cause disease, with the ultimate aim of seeking out new ways to combat infection. These research programmes are concentrated principally in the Departments of Medicine and the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research. There is strong collaborative interaction with the Division of Virology of the Department of Pathology. There are also increasing collaborations with other University Departments including Chemistry and Mathematics for detailed analysis of viral structure and function, and epidemiology of disease in conjunction with the MRC Epidemiology Unit.
Bacterial infections cause diseases such as tuberculosis, which is rife in the developing world and re-emerging in Western countries. Infections in domestic animals (for example with Campylobacter or Salmonella) pose a threat to humans and cause great losses to the food industry. The increase in antibiotic resistance is making bacterial infection more difficult to treat so new rational approaches for prevention and treatment are urgently needed. Molecular and cellular bacteriology research is carried out in the Departments of Pathology, Biochemistry and Veterinary Medicine. There are emphases on the mechanisms of disease caused by bacteria, antibiotic resistance, membrane transport mechanisms, protein trafficking and bacterial motility and invasion.
Parasites continue to impose a major health and economic burden on the developing world. Work in parasitology, mainly in the Departments of Pathology and Biochemistry, focuses on diseases such as schistosomiasis and infection with trypanosomes and Toxoplasma gondii. Prevention of infections requires an understanding of the epidemiology of the disease (spread, transmission); this is especially complex in parasites and typically involves two or more host species (e.g. mosquitos and man). Research at Cambridge integrates basic molecular biology, cell biology and biochemistry, functional genomics, bioinformatics, human epidemiological investigations and vaccine immunology. Field-based epidemiology and laboratory-based experimental models are also used to evaluate human immune response to chronic parasitic infection.
Immunology studies the mechanisms of immunity to infection and the role of the immune system in autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis and the vasculitides. An understanding of the genes, molecules and cells of the immune system has led to developments in biotechnology, vaccine research, cancer therapy, and the treatment of infectious diseases, allergy, immune deficiency, autoimmunity and cancer. Research takes place in the Departments of Pathology, Medicine and Veterinary Medicine and in associated research institutes and centres of excellence such as the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research.
Research in Immunity is also clinically and experimentally based and can be grouped into three broad areas: fundamental biology of both the innate and adaptive immune response; immunity in infectious diseases; autoimmunity, rheumatology and transplantation immunology. Much effort is expended in translational research: bringing discoveries from the laboratory bench to the patient’s bedside.
Research into both the innate and adaptive immune response is carried out in the Departments of Pathology and Biochemistry, the Cambridge Institute for Medical Research, the MRC-LMB and the Veterinary School. Research on immunoglobulins is focused on understanding gene transcription and hypermutation and engineering immunoglobulins for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes. The organisation, polymorphisms and disease associations of receptor families involved in natural and T cell mediated immunity are also under investigation. Natural killer (NK) cell biology in health and disease and the biology of dendritic cells and their innate receptors are studied at both the cellular and molecular level. Immune regulation through complex cellular interactions is also a major research area.
Immunity to infection is an expanding area of research, covering interactions of the host immune system with a wide range of organisms. This has implications for disease pathogenesis, vaccine design and autoimmunity. There is a focus on the pathogenesis of persistent viruses such as herpes viruses and lentiviruses and development of vaccine strategies for immunity to persistent viruses in naturally occurring models of viral infections of domestic animals. The complex immuno-biological interrelationships between host and parasite are being investigated. In many parasitic diseases the immune system plays a significant role in their pathology (damaging effects). These studies include the analysis of global pathogen gene expression and function within the hosts and in the environment, the study of the interactions between bacterial genes and the immune system. “How do viruses, parasites and bacteria subvert the immune response?” is a major question in our research.
Autoimmunity is studied in the Departments of Medicine, Pathology, Haematology and the Cambridge Institute for Medical research. We study the role of T cells in causing autoimmune diseases and the potential for specific targeting to halt autoimmune pathology. Major programmes are focussed on immune mechanisms leading to failure of self tolerance and tissue destruction and on the analysis of genetic susceptibility to diabetes. Basic, clinical and translational research in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and arthritis are major themes within the Department of Medicine.
Transplantation immunology is an important area of clinical research and the availability of strong histopathological expertise underpins clinical immunological research.