Head of laboratory
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The MIU studies the processes that occur in the body in response to infectious agents. We are particularly interested in malaria parasites and the bacteria that can cause meningitis (inflammation of the brain). Two of the major complications of infection with malaria parasites are cerebral malaria (disruption of normal brain functions) and pulmonary oedema (accumulation of fluid in the lung), and the staff and students of the MIU investigate these. Each year, malaria and bacterial meningitis together cause more than 1 million deaths as well as the same number of cases of impaired brain function in survivors.
Our studies to date have shown that the host’s defences against malaria parasites and bacteria are usually very effective in eliminating the infectious agent, but in some cases may actually interfere with the way the brain functions – with dangerous consequences. We use the term “immunopathology” to describe situations in which the immune system causes organ dysfunction or damage.
Our other major research area is a biochemical pathway that is very important in normal healthy body processes, including the body’s defence against infection and cancer, and also in diseases of the brain and nervous system. This is known as the kynurenine pathway of tryptophan metabolism. Dr Helen Ball of the MIU recently discovered a new protein that appears to regulate this pathway in some cells, and this is under active investigation.
Nick Hunt is well-known for his studies of the severe illness caused by malaria infection and his interest in free radical biology and inflammation. Meningitis is a recent area of interest.