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£5.2M to improve understanding of aging immune system

30 Nov 2012

A team of researchers from the University of Manchester, working with the University of Warwick, have been awarded £5.2M to investigate our immune response and how it is affected by aging.

The grant is part of BBSRC's Strategic Longer and Larger Awards scheme, which gives world-leading teams the time and resources to address areas of key strategic importance.

The research focuses on a signalling system called ‘NF-kappaB’ which plays a key role in regulating how our immune system responds to diseases.  Incorrect regulation of ‘NF-kappaB’ has been linked to cancer, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, viral infection, and improper immune development.

Principle Investigator, Professor Michael White of the University of Manchester, explains:  “As we get older our immune system tends to get weaker and it becomes increasingly difficult to shake off diseases. At the same time we tend to develop arthritis and other auto-immune diseases. 

“We know that NF-kappaB plays an important role in these immune responses and determines the fate of cells in the body by switching genes on or off, but we don’t know how this process is controlled through normal life. 

“We will investigate how NF-kappaB signalling is controlled within the body, by processes like the cell division cycle and the sleep-wake cycle of the 24 h circadian clock. This is vital if we are to understand how and why our immune system falters with age.”

A multidisciplinary team of scientists (consisting of physiologists, biologists, mathematicians and computer scientists) will use cells from specially bred mice to understand the NF-kappaB response to a variety of stimuli.  

The data from this research, and other published data, will be used to build integrated mathematical models that can predict important aspects of cell, tissue and animal physiology relevant to understanding the maintenance of a healthy organism and how this may change with age.