Inflammation in the brain
At one time the brain was considered an `immune-privileged' organ but it has become increasingly apparent that it is capable of producing key mediators of inflammation in response to injury and/or infection. Research over the last decade has implicated these inflammatory mediators in both acute and chronic neurodegenerative conditions, such as stroke, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and epilepsy. Each of these conditions involves neuronal injury and death which translates to severe disability in the patient.
Cytokines and neuronal injury
Cytokines are a group of key inflammatory molecules which have both beneficial and detrimental effects on CNS injury. Interleukin-1 (IL-1), often referred to as the "prototypical" pro-inflammatory cytokine, is the most extensively studied in neurodegeneration and has been the focus of our research. We have demonstrated that, in response to experimental brain injury, IL-1 contributes to cell death in the brain. Several possible mechanisms of IL-1 action have been proposed and our recent data indicate that effects of IL-1 on CNS injury are mediated via peripheral effects. We have also shown that IL-1 has marked effects on seizure activity and studies to identify the underlying mechanisms are currently ongoing, as are studies on the role of IL-1, as well as inflammation in general, in Alzheimer's disease.
Overall therefore our research is focused on elucidating the role of both central and peripheral cytokines (particularly IL-1) in neuronal injury, using appropriate experimental paradigms both in vitro and in vivo. Together with future clinical studies this work should enable us to determine the potential therapeutic benefit of targeting the IL-1 system in neurodegenerative disease.
Public engagement in science
I have developed and run a diverse range of innovative projects to communicate science to the public. A significant achievement is that these projects have reached a very wide audience from different backgrounds, and that they have focused not just on scientific fact but the scientific process itself. The latter is very important in both the attitude of the public to scientists and in attracting the scientists of the future. Our approach to public engagement has been disseminated to other scientists through posters at scientific meetings and articles in professional newsletters (including the British Neuroscience Association and Physiological Society).