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Understanding and manipulating our immune system to protect against ageing

Understanding and manipulating our immune system to protect against ageing

Ageing is the most important non-modifiable risk factor for a number of diseases and conditions of the immune system including ischaemia reperfusion injury (e.g. myocardial infarction and stroke), cancer, infections, wound healing, degenerative diseases (e.g. vascular dementia, Alzheimer’s disease) and cardiovascular diseases. Ageing is also associated with several morbidities that finally lead to organ failure and death.

As we age, our immune system undergoes a dynamic change characterised by low-grade chronic inflammation and involving a number of immune cells (e.g. neutrophils, platelets and endothelial cells) and pro-inflammatory cytokines e.g. tumour necrosis factor (TNF)-α, interleukin (IL)-1β and IL-6. This chronic activation of inflammation associated with ageing has been termed ‘inflammageing’ and although the detrimental effects of ageing are well defined, mechanisms contributing to poor outcomes following many morbidities remain unknown. In addition, these effects may also be compounded by additional co-morbidities including environmental factors (e.g. stressful environments, alcohol consumption, smoking).

Multimorbidity (i.e. two or more long-term health conditions) is prevalent as we age, with 75% of adults by the age of 70 having multimorbidities. These effects increase the risk of infections in the elderly and are at greater risk for infections (e.g. COVID-19), with worse outcomes. Additionally, inflammaging affects immune responses to illness, infections and vaccines, which may lead vaccination against e.g. SARS-CoV-2 being less effective, or not lasting as long as in younger patient cohorts. How inflammageing affects COVID-19 risk and poor outcome in the elderly remains unknown and is of great unmet clinical need to help identify potential novel disease biomarkers for future clinical trials.

In summary, we are particularly interested in the mode, dynamics and mechanisms of inflammaging that occur in the microcirculation (both in the brain and systemic organs). The aim of this project is to provide a greater understanding of the complex haemodynamic responses of the immune system as we age in order to drive drug discovery programmes aimed at manipulating our immune system to protect against ageing and help solutions to key global challenges.


Meet the Principal Investigator(s) for the project

Professor Felicity Gavins - Felicity read Pharmacology at the University of Sunderland, where she also embarked on an industrial placement year at Bayer Pharmaceuticals in Slough. After completing her BSc (Hons), she moved to London to study for a Ph.D. in Pharmacology at Queen Mary University London, supported by the British Heart Foundation (BHF). Felicity was then awarded a BHF Junior Research Fellowship to undertake further research both in the UK and the USA. In 2007 Felicity joined Imperial College London to take up a Lectureship position in the Centre for Integrative Mammalian Physiology and Pharmacology (CIMPP). This was shortly followed by a senior lectureship and the appointment to Deputy Head of The Centre of Neurodegeneration & Neuroinflammation. In 2013 she accepted an academic position in the USA at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-Shreveport (LSUHSC-S) and was appointed Director of The Small Animal Imaging Facility. Felicity is a Fellow of the British Pharmacological Society and of the Royal Society of Biology. She joined Brunel University London in August 2019 as Professor of Pharmacology and Royal Society Wolfson Fellow, and is the Director of The Centre for Inflammation Research and Translational Medicine (CIRTM). Throughout her academic career, Felicity has worked with and served on numerous national and international research councils, medical charities and learned societies. She has published widely in her field and received a number of awards and honours for her work. She has received funding for her research from a range of funders including: the Royal Society and the Wolfson Foundation (RSWF), the British Heart Foundation (BHF), the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the American Heart Association (AHA), and the National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NIH/NHLBI). Felicity continues to be actively involved in public and patient organizations which has been immensely instructive for her research. She is also dedicated to promoting mentoring and collaborative research, along with facilitating mentoring of post-doctoral fellows/early-career investigators.

Related Research Group(s)

Inflammation Research and Translational Medicine

Inflammation Research and Translational Medicine - Interdisciplinary research into understanding the inflammatory and immune processes that underlie human health, disease and healing.


Project last modified 19/10/2021