Following the prick of a rose thorn, a paper cut, or an infection our bodies start to fight back. And the defence begins with inflammation. That inflamed, tender, red patch we all know as the hallmark of a wound or infection is the result of certain white blood cells summoning the troops and increasing the blood supply to deal with a wound or invasion.
Professor Wolfgang Weninger, head of Centenary’s Immune Imaging program, who leads our work in research, says “understanding inflammation is becoming an important topic across Centenary, helping us understand cardiovascular disease, organ rejection and auto-immune diseases, for example. Another important issue is ageing. Our immune system response changes with age. It’s part of the process of ageing, where the body becomes less and less capable of coping with destructive events.”
There are many different kinds of immune cells. Professor Weninger and his colleagues have developed techniques to track each kind of cell and watch the unfolding battle between these cells and deadly bacteria, viruses and parasites. “The techniques have wide application”, says Professor Weninger, “allowing us to see both microbes and immune cells at the same time, as well as all the structures – such as blood vessels, nerves and hair follicles – in a variety of different organs including brain, liver and skin.”
This work will help researchers across the Institute develop therapies to cope with infection; assist with wound healing; and reduce the effects of ageing. Inflammation is becoming so important to Centenary that Professor Weninger and his colleague Professor Jennifer Gamble are organising a multidisciplinary conference on the topic in Sydney in March 2014.