Worldwide, diseases of the gastrointestinal tract are amongst the most common. Despite this, relatively little is understood about gut immunology- specifically how immune responses are switched on and controlled. A major theme of the lab is understanding and defining the initiation and control of immune responses in sites such as the gut and also the skin. In particular we focus on the mechanisms of crosstalk between immune cells and epithelial cells in reponse to stimuli from microbiota or pathogens.
By combining in vitro and in vivo approaches we have been able to characterise the barrier function of intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and the crosstalk of IECs with immune cells, pathogens and commensal bacteria. We use infectious models such as Toxoplasma gondii, Trichuris muris and Salmonella typhimurium to answer fundamental questions about the initiation of gut immunity. Our group has demonstrated that epithelial mediated signals in reponse to damage and infection promote dendritic cell mobilisation and that this is strongly associated with resistance to infection. By understanding the pathways that are switched on in susceptibility versus resistance we are looking to develop biomarkers that can better predict inflammation and improve patient care for those with chronic long term confiditions.
Similarly, we address the role of commensal, probiotic and pathogenic bacteria in the epithelial and immune response of chronic skin wounds. This work has shown the importance of specific immune cells known as alternatively activated macrophages in wound healing and has implicated the pattern recognition receptor Nod2 as having a key role in regulating the wound healing induced inflammatory response and microbiota.
The other big theme in the group is understanding the role and function of immune cells called eosinophils. We have found a novel role for the eosinophils that live in the adipose tissue that surround blood vessels (pervivascular adipose) next to the gut. Eosinophils can regulate perivascular adipose and vascular function and have an important role in regulating blood pressure and glucose tolerance.
I have a strong interest in public engagement with science and have developed projects to share and involve the public with my research. I have co-developed a number of games and activities around the theme of paraistic infection in a mobile activity called "the Worm Wagon" and I have also developed resources to enable people with english as second language to access scientific langauage and learn about science and apply it to their daily lives. I have co-developed a citizen science project called Britain Breathing which uses citizens as sensors to capture data on seasonal allergies to better understand why they occur and why they are increasing.