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Investigating the ageing immune system and its role in inflammatory autoimmune disease

Dr Nollaig Bourke’s study could reveal if ageing, and more specifically ‘inflammageing’, could be one of the fundamental processes involved in driving initial disease in AAV.

Dr Nollaig Bourke, Ussher Assistant Professor in Inflammageing, Medical Gerontology, has been awarded a project grant from Vasculitis UK to investigate ageing-associated inflammation in response to drivers of ANCA-Associated Vasculitis pathology.

L-R: Dr Nollaig Bourke, Isabella Batten and Professor Mark Little

Professor Mark Little, Professor/Consultant of Nephrology, Clinical Medicine, School of Medicine is the co-applicant. Isabella Batten, IRC PhD candidate generated the key pilot data during her PhD project that supported this grant proposal.

Inflammageing – what’s it all about?

A striking and unique hallmark of the potent inflammatory autoimmune condition ANCA-Associated Vasculitis (AAV) is that the typical age of onset is adults in their early 60s. This disease is associated with inflammation of blood vessels, which can lead to significant organ damage.

There are two major outstanding issues in the AAV field; first, it is still not understood what initial factors drive development of this disease specifically in later life and second, therapy for this devastating condition relies on broadly acting immunosuppressives, which are non-specific, often inadequate and can have severe side effects.

This new research project will address both issues by examining the contribution that the ageing immune system may have in AAV. We know that typically in humans, levels of inflammation rise as we get older, a phenomenon known as ‘inflammageing’. The team will investigate if inflammageing plays a key role in the development and pathology of AAV.

Research impact potential

This study could reveal if ageing, and more specifically inflammageing, could be one of the fundamental processes involved in driving initial disease in AAV. By understanding why certain older adults will develop this disease, we can better identify those at risk early in the disease development. Furthermore, out-of-control inflammatory responses are what cause tissue destruction in AAV. If we could understand more about how and why this inflammation happens in AAV, it would help identify more specific inflammatory responses that could be targeted in new therapeutic approaches.

Looking ahead, Dr Bourke said:

This award will allow us to explore the important contribution that ageing and associated inflammation are playing in the development and pathology of this devastating disease.”

This research is only possible because of the detailed clinical and biological data available in The Rare Kidney Disease Registry and Biobank, based in Trinity College, and was established by Professor Mark Little in 2012 with support from the Meath Foundation.