Wednesday, 16 September 2015

World-leading Immunologist kicks off Biomed Research Day

Once every year the scientists from the Centre for Biomedical Research come together to show-case their current research data to scientists within the university, collaborators and invited external guests.  It was a great honour to have our research day opened by a presentation given by Prof. Siamon Gordon, Emeritus Professor at Oxford University who is a world-leader in the biology of macrophages.  Siamon eloquently set the scene for these innate immune cells and the role they play in immune defence; the function of which is clearly defined by subset and local tissue/cellular environment.

This talk was followed by a series of macrophage-focussed talks from our resident researchers.  Dr Andy Foey (Lecturer in Immunology) had the un-enviable task in following Siamon and presented how subsets of these cells make differential activation/suppression decisions in response to the oral pathogen, Porphyromonas gingivalis, a keystone pathogen in Chronic Periodontitis.  Prof Simon Jackson introduced his latest work on how macrophage functions are controlled through the expression and activity of an enzyme that controls cell membrane fluidity and “rafting” of receptor signalling molecules that respond to bacterial pathogens.  The aim of this work being to create a better mechanistic understanding that may lead to a molecular or cellular-based therapeutic regimen in the treatment of sepsis.  Dr Gyorgy Fejer changed focus to the lungs with MPI, a self-renewing tissue-resident alveolar macrophage cell line which can be used as an in vitro model for asthma and other lung diseases.  This macrophage focus was further reinforced by Prof David Parkinson who described the influx of reparative macrophages upon injury to peripheral nerves and schwann cells.

Changing track somewhat, Dr Matt Upton highlighted the grave issue of antibiotic resistance and his group’s efforts in the search for novel exogenous antimicrobial peptides as a viable alternative to current antibiotics prescribed by the doctor.  Dr Vehid Salih introduced the field of tissue engineering in dentistry; indicating the need for more appropriate 3D modelling in the characterisation of oral mucosal responses.  The growing dental research interests were further represented by the final talk of the day by Dr Sveta Zaric who presented data on the differences in bacterial LPS structure and how these different structures impact on the immune system’s ability to recognise and respond to oral pathogens. 
Last but not least......our research students: in addition to the talks, this research meeting included an opportunity for PhD students and Post-doctoral scientists to present their work in a poster symposium. These included presentations from all the research groups within the Centre for Biomedical Research and some of our collaborators outside the centre. The final recognition was given to the best scientific poster prize, presented to Kelly Sillence, one of our final year PhD students who presented her research data focussing on droplet digital PCR technology and its application for non-invasive prenatal testing of sex and blood genetic typing.

In conclusion, what was nicely demonstrated by this research day is the way that many of our research strands overlap and are converging to develop fruitful collaborations and a truly-interlinking research nucleus that will help the University of Plymouth punch above its weight with respect to Biomedical Research in the future.