Reporter 455, 25 September 2000

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Museum hosts an event at the cutting edge of immunology

Immunologists from all over Leeds, including the teaching hospitals and a number of University departments, have held the first study day under the umbrella of a newly formed interdisciplinary alliance.

This city is one of the biggest UK centres of immunology research outside London. The Leeds Immunology Interest Group (LIIG) was created to promote collaborative work in areas like infection and immunity, the genetics involved with the immune system, clinical practice or cancer immunology.

"The immune system is at the very centre of our well-being," explained Professor Simon Carding of the School of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, who chairs the LIIG and was one of the prime mover’s behind this month’s study day at the Thackray Medical Museum.

"Immunology has been established as a discipline for some 20 years – and it now holds out hopes of eradicating infectious diseases like HIV and tuberculosis within a decade, through the development of new vaccines."

Advances in molecular biology have helped bring the discipline into a new and exciting phase, he said.

"By understanding the fundamental workings of the immune system and the cells that are part of it, new and more specific forms of treatment have been discovered – and are now being used, to treat cancer, autoimmune diseases and infectious disease.

"In Leeds, University researchers are working hand in hand, with Europe’s largest group of teaching hospitals. Laboratory work here can rapidly be developed into medical practice – a ‘bench to bedside’ approach."

The 100-odd researchers who enrolled for the group’s inaugural event reflected the relevance of immunology across a whole spectrum of health issues. Dr John Isaacs, senior lecturer in rheumatology, is developing and applying new treatments for rheumatoid arthritis. David Rowlands, Professor of molecular virology, works on preventing the development of hepatitis which causes transplant rejection.

Professor Farida Fortune of the School of Dentistry is researching autoimmune diseases that affect the mouth. Dr Eileen Ingham, reader in medical immunology, is collaborating with Dr John Fisher in bioengineering immunology – how the immune system interacts with prostheses.

Presentations at the LIIG study day covered recent advances in malaria vaccine development; hookworm infection in Papua New Guinea; advances in immunisation for cancer; gastrointestinal disease; and the role of immunology in reproduction.

The group has also set up a central list and mail server to help researchers keep abreast of each other’s interests. A website is under development.

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