Luzheng Xue: Inflammation in disease
Drugs and treatments for inflammatory diseases are scarce and often induce major side effects. A better understanding of the molecular mechanisms governing inflammatory diseases would allow us to develop new drug and treatments, at great benefit for both patients and the NHS.
Q: What are inflammatory diseases?
Luzheng Xue: To answer this question we have to start from inflammation. Inflammation is the body's normal immune response to something we believe is harmful.
Sometimes, the immune system malfunctions and attacks some harmless substance such as pollen or peanuts, and this causes an allergic inflammation. Sometimes, the body itself (tissues and cells) are attacked, and this is called autoimmune disease. These abnormal reactions and the subsequent symptoms cause inflammatory disease.
Q: What is the specific focus of your own work?
LX: We try to develop new drugs and a new method to control and treat inflammatory diseases. For example, in collaboration with a pharmaceutical company called Atopix Therapeutics, we try to target asthma and atopic dermatitis. We are also working together with Orca Pharmaceuticals to try and target autoimmune disease. We screen new drugs and then work out how these drugs are working and how to best use them.
Q: Can you give us an example of how your work is beginning to make a change to how patients are treated?
LX: For example, currently we are working on a new drug, and this drug is already in the late stage of clinical trials. In the clinical trial it already shows some benefits for the treatment of asthma. We have also found another new drug, in collaboration with Orca Pharmaceuticals and this drug can potentially be used to treat autoimmune disease.
Q: What are the most important lines of research that have developed in the field in the last 5-10 years?
LX: The most important line of research developed in our group in recent years is trying to understand the role of the prostaglandin receptors. These receptors are present on some immune cell surface and are involved in the allergic response. We can try to find out the mechanisms and then develop new drugs; this is potentially a very promising drug target.
We also trying to work on another receptor that is located in the nucleus: this (receptor) controls the development of immune cells which lead to autoimmune disease. So this is potentially also another good drug target.
Q: Why does this line of research matter and why should we fund it?
LX: Something like asthma or psoriasis is very difficult to treat. These illnesses poorly respond to current therapies. Even if some (like steroids) do work, they will have side effects. This kind of situation significantly reduces the quality of life for patients. These therapies are also a heavy burden on NHS resources.
So in our studies, we are trying to develop a new drug or a new treatment that can control this disease. This will benefit patients as well as the NHS, so its likely to be very useful in future.
Q: How does your work fitin to translational medicine within the department?
LX: Our research allows us to understand the mechanism of inflammatory disease. This then help us develop new treatments or new drugs to treat these diseases: a great benefit to the patients. Therefore our studies directly lead to medical applications, and that is exactly what translational medicine needs to do.