Immunology Researchers Win Awards at Major International Conference

Posted on: 08 December 2011

School of Biochemistry and Immunology researchers, Lara Dungan and Lisa Mielke, beat off tough competition to win awards at the International Cytokine Society International Conference on ‘Cyokines and Interferons: from Bench to Bedside’ which took place recently in Florence, Italy. 

Lara Dungan, who is studying for a PhD in the laboratory of Professor of Experimental Immunology, Kingston Mills, won the ‘International Cytokine Society Outstanding Scholar’ award.  Lisa Mielke, a Postdoctoral Fellow who is also based in the laboratory of Professor Kingston Mills, took second prize in the ‘International Cytokine Society Postdoctoral Investigator’ award category.  The awards gave both researchers the opportunity of presenting their research at the conference which was attended by over 1000 international scientists.

Congratulating the researchers on their awards Professor Kingston Mills said: “This work has huge significance for our understanding of the underlying basis of autoimmune diseases and should help in the development of new therapies for debilitating diseases like Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and inflammatory bowel disease.”

The work of both researchers focuses on the immune basis of autoimmune diseases.  Autoimmune diseases arise when specific immune cells called T cells attack their host causing inflammation.  The research shows how cytokines, key messenger molecules of the immune system, can work together to induce inflammation within the body.  Cytokines help to mediate and regulate immune responses, and are involved in many disease processes.  A number of modern therapies for human diseases are based on inhibition or enhancement of cytokine production. For example, inhibitors of the cytokine TNF are used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease.

Lara’s research focuses on an understanding the role of the cytokine IL-17 in the disease process in models of MS.  She has discovered that specialised cells of the innate immune system called dendritic cells secrete two other cytokines called IL-1 and IL-18 which promote production of the disease causing cytokine IL-17 from T cells of the adaptive immune system.  Lisa’s work is focused on models of Crohn’s disease and she has discovered that a metabolite of Vitamin A promotes production of the cytokine IL-22 which is protective against intestinal inflammation.  The research is funded by Science Foundation Ireland and IRSCET.