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Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Frontiers of single cell genomics put scientists on the path to developing inflammatory drugs

A husband and wife team, Associate Professor Marcel Nold and Dr Claudia Nold, from the Hudson Institute and Monash University, are using innovative single cell technologies to develop new drugs to control potentially-deadly inflammation.

Earlier this year they discovered the crucial mechanisms of a protein called Interleukin 37 (IL- 37), in regulating immune responses and controlling inflammation in the body.

The Nold team is now working to harness the powerful functions of this protein to create new drugs that could be used to control the body’s immune system’s inflammatory responses.

Assoc. Prof. Nold says inflammation is an important response to infection or injury but, if not carefully controlled, can cause conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

“If we can control the mechanisms of IL-37 to block or mimic the body’s inflammatory responses, it could have far-reaching effects on any number of diseases,” said Assoc. Prof. Nold.

The study, published in the prestigious journal, Nature Immunology, in February revealed how the body uses IL-37 as a molecular signal to regulate and control inflammation.

The team found that, to achieve its protective effects, IL-37 uses a pair of very specific receptors on target cells. Binding of these two receptors triggers IL-37 to instruct target cells to execute a cascade of events, which subdue some of the molecular pathways by which the body mounts inflammatory responses.

To do this, they will use technology from the Institute’s Single Cell Genomics Centre to analyse activity of genes controlling the receptor’s function, by which stage they anticipate significant interest from pharmaceutical companies in using the results to develop anti-inflammatory drugs that modulate the body’s immune responses.

Chief Investigator on the Single Cell Genomics Centre project, Professor Paul Hertzog, says the research into IL-37 demonstrates how these state-of-the-art technologies can accelerate scientific findings.

“Single cell genomics research is emerging as a driving force for discovery in life science, allowing scientists to isolate each individual cell from a diseased organ or tumour to establish which cells are actually causing the disease, or responding to a treatment,” Professor Paul Hertzog said.

“By allowing scientists to analyse the transcription of thousands of genes at the single cell level, the technology enables researchers to identify different cell types that have until now, remained out of reach. We are now able to discover new principles of how our organs function and how drugs work.”

On Friday 4 September, the centre was awarded Australia’s first Single Cell Centre of Excellence by internationally-renowned biotechnology company Fluidigm, making it the first in the southern hemisphere.

Parliamentary Secretary for Medical Research, Mr Frank McGuire MP, will officially launch the centre before touring the state-of-the-art facility to learn about the ground-breaking research being enabled by the single-cell technology.

The MHTP, a partnership between Hudson Institute of Medical Research, Monash University and Monash Health, brings together clinicians and scientists to directly translate research discoveries into greater prevention, diagnosis and treatments for the community’s greatest health challenges.

Hudson Institute Director, Professor Bryan Williams, says the Single Cell Genomics Centre was established through funding from an Australian Research Council LIEF (Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities) grant, through a partnership between Monash University, University of Melbourne, University of Newcastle and Hudson Institute of Medical Research.

“This collaborative partnership with our partner universities and Fluidigm is providing our scientists with access to breakthrough developments in Fluidigm’s technology and increasing the opportunities for them to become world leaders in the field of genomics medicine,” said Professor Williams.

The Nolds’ research also received a boost from the inaugural $50,000 Fielding Innovation Award, which was established as part of a gift agreement between the Hudson Institute and Melbourne businessman Peter Fielding, to boost commercial activity for the Institute’s scientists, especially while a record-low number of research projects are funded by the government.

MHTP’s $87.5 million Translational Research Facility, funded by the Federal Government, is scheduled to open in October.

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