Immunity to parasitic infection
Worldwide, parasites are some of the most prevalent infections of man and his domestic animals and are responsible for much debilitating disease and ill-health. Of all the types of parasite, gastrointestinal dwelling roundworms (nematodes) constitute the most common with in excess of one billion people currently infected.
Humans often carry infections for many years, which appear to survive the attack of the body's defence system, the immune system. Our research is focussed on defining the regulation of the immune response to gastrointestinal dwelling nematodes using well established model systems. A major focus is the role that different populations of leukocytes , particularly T lymphocyes , play in resistance and susceptibility through the secretion of cytokines and the activation of effector mechanisms that can remove parasites from the intestine. We have identifed novel mechanisms of parasite control and defined the ways in which the immune system is modulated to allow chronic infections to develop. We are also using genetic analyses to identify new genes that influence resistance and susceptibility to infection. We have identified important the interactions between the parasites and the microflora of the intestine and are investigating the consequences of these interactions upon the immune response. Studies are also focussed on the molecules secreted by the parasites that modulate host protective immunity. In conjunction with the Sanger Centre we are involved in the mouse whipworm geneome project. Our research will have important consequences for the future development of control strategies of these `neglected' diseases, with particular application to vaccine work, in addition to opening up new avenues for immunotherapy in a variety of infectious and non-infectious diseases of the mucosa.