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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Scientists discover new ways to tackle deadly inflammation

Professor Bryan Williams 
Photo: Derrick den Hollander

Victorian researchers have discovered a protein that acts as a brake on inflammation, which could help the bid to better treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.

The MIMR-PHI Institute of Medical Research team have not only uncovered that the protein plays a crucial role in the inflammation process, but they have unravelled how it works. Previously the protein, PLZF, has been found to be involved in a rare form of childhood leukaemia, but this discovery is the first to uncover its role in inflammation.

“Inflammation is a normal reaction to injury or exposure to an infectious agent — a little bit is good, but a lot is very bad,” said institute director and one of the paper’s lead authors, Professor Bryan Williams.

“If inflammation gets away it leads to the development of some really serious diseases and that’s why this protein is important, it keeps the brake on inflammation.”

Current drugs that treat inflammation have proved limited. But a better understanding of what keeps the process under control in the body could improve both the development of new therapies and existing treatments.

“The precision of a drug comes from understanding the pathways. That’s what we have done here, unravelled the pathways that control inflammation,” Prof Williams said.

The findings, made together with doctors Tony Sadler and Dakang Xu, had taken more than a ­decade of research.

The next step will be to investigate ways to use this protein to control inflammation.

Prof Williams said there were already drugs that targeted this particular family of proteins so they would investigate if they interacted with the PLZF protein.

A drug that can interact with the protein may also be vital for improving immunotherapy, one of the newest and most promising treatments for cancer.

The research was published in the prestigious journal Nature Communications.

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