Immunology PhD Student Wins Major International Awards

Posted on: 27 January 2011

School of Biochemistry and Immunology student, Lara Dungan, who is studying for a PhD in the laboratory of Professor of Experimental Immunology, Kingston Mills, beat off international competition to win two awards at the British Society of Immunology annual congress recently.  Lara’s research, which aims to shed light on the underlying causes of autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS), won her both the ‘Bright Sparks in Immunology’ award and the ‘Young Scientist of the Year’ award and gave her the opportunity of presenting her research to a plenary session of the congress which was attended by over 1000 immunologists.

Autoimmune diseases arise when specific immune cells attack their host causing inflammation.  The Trinity College research uses an EAE (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis) model of brain inflammation.  In her paper, entitled Caspase-1 processed cytokines IL-1β and IL-18 promote IL-17-production by γδ+ and CD4+ T cells that mediate autoimmunity,  Lara highlights how certain agents called cytokines, small cell signalling protein molecules that feature in intercellular communication, can work together to induce inflammation within the body.  If this inflammation is left unchecked it can become excessive and result in the body’s immune system attacking itself leading to autoimmune diseases, such as MS. 

PhD student, Lara Dungan.

MS affects over 7,000 people and their families in Ireland and over 2.5 million people worldwide.  It is the most common progressive and disabling neurological condition in young adults with symptoms typically showing for the first time between 20 – 40 years of age.  Studies from the TCD model have led to the discovery that by using a drug to inhibit certain enzymes it is possible to impede the agents that lead to inflammation, thereby reducing the symptoms of EAE.  This approach is different to current treatments for the disease, which target downstream symptoms such as the inflammation itself, by potentially inhibiting the underlying causes of the disease.  This process provides a new means to develop potential drugs to prevent autoimmune diseases without affecting the normal function of the immune system.