New therapy to resolve inflammation and prevent tissue fibrosis

New therapy to resolve inflammation and prevent tissue fibrosis

Soaad Soboh and Sergei Butenko

Recent Rosetrees Trust-funded research published in Nature Communications has highlighted the therapeutic potential of IFN-β in chronic and non-resolving inflammation, as well as fibrotic disorders and wound repair. Specifically, IFN-β has been identified as a macrophage-derived multi-pronged effector in resolving inflammation. Dr. Amiram Ariel is funded by Rosetrees, and is the researcher who led this investigation, which was carried out at the University of Haifa.

Interestingly, this research also develops our understanding of IFN-β in anti-bacterial defence. As previously there had been considerable efforts into understanding its role in host response to viruses primarily. Therefore, Dr. Ariel and his collaborator, Prof. Filep from the University of Montreal, have not only identified the therapeutic potential of IFN-β in certain inflammatory diseases, there has been additional insight into the role of IFN-β in enhancing the eradication of bacteria during pneumonia.

Dr. Amiram Ariel

Dr. Ariel explained: “Enhancing the resolution of inflammation is a novel approach in eradicating chronic inflammatory, autoimmune and fibrotic disorders, and our studies reveal IFN-β as a potential new therapy in this arena”. The groups of Dr. Ariel and Prof. Filep discovered IFN-β is produced by specialised immune cells called macrophages following their uptake of dead neutrophils during the resolution of inflammation. IFN-β, in turn, enhances bacterial clearance from infected tissues, and expedites apoptotic death of inflammatory neutrophils, the uptake of apoptotic neutrophils by macrophages and the consequent reprogramming of these macrophages to resolution-promoting macrophages. Thus, IFN-β seems amenable in limiting unnecessary prolonged inflammation without risking the host with immune insufficiency and pathogen persistence, and harnessing its direct use or finding compounds that will enhance its production by macrophages for therapeutics purposes seems like a promising approach in the treatment of inflammatory and fibrotic disorders.

Written by: Rebecca Downing and Dr. Amiram Ariel

Macrophages that have engulfed apoptotic cells in culture.

Bone plugs offer new hope for treating cartilage damage

Bone plugs offer new hope for treating cartilage damage

Professor Chaozong Liu is leading a Rosetrees Trust-funded project, with postdoctoral research associate Dr. Maryam Tamaddon, to investigate a tissue engineering approach for the treatment of cartilage damage, as a result of repetitive injuries or osteoarthritis.

Based at UCL Institute of Musculoskeletal and Orthopaedic Sciences, the team have already developed a novel ex vivo bone plug model for evaluating scaffold technology in order to speed up translation of this technology into clinical practice. They have also demonstrated improved mechanical and biological parameters in various model systems, both in vitro and in vivo.

Dr. Maryam Tamaddon

The team have recently received ethical approval to access young patients’ tissue for use in their project. “This is an important step because there is variability between children and adults for this type of study, and children are currently under-investigated. This allows the researchers to understand the osteoarthritis development at early stage”, as quoted by Dr. Maryam Tamaddon.

Significantly, a Phase I clinical trial has been agreed to start in October 2019, with a cohort of 20 patients. This will take place at the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, NHS Trust, for patients with knee joint cartilage damage. Safety is being considered as the primary outcome. The results from this trial will be relevant to clinicians, because this will offer a new treatment option for treatment of cartilage damage.


Professor Chaozong Liu

Once the Phase I clinical trial has begun, this will facilitate subsequent running of other trials in parallel and recruitment of more patients.

Professor Chaozong Liu from University College London, who is leading this research, commented, “We have demonstrated that the novel Bone Plug Model, developed under a Rosetrees Trust award, is able to provide more relevant human tissue-scaffold interactions, and speed up the translation of novel technology into clinical practice. We are very happy with the achievement and very grateful for Rosetrees Trust for supporting our work.”

Written by: Rebecca Downing and Professor Chaozong Liu

Novel therapeutic approach to treat Parkinson’s disease?

Novel therapeutic approach to treat Parkinson’s disease?

Dr. Williams-Gray is a Rosetrees Trust-funded researcher based at the University of Cambridge, who is leading a team that is currently investigating the role of Toll-like receptors in brain inflammation and disease progression in Parkinson’s disease and its associated dementia. The team are using human post-mortem tissue from patients with Parkinson’s to explore the relationship between pathological changes and clinical course of the disease. In addition, they are using a novel laboratory-based model of Parkinson’s disease which will allow them to determine how Toll-like receptor blocking drugs will affect the inflammatory response and consequent nerve cell damage.

Antonina Kouli

A recent review of Toll-like receptors in Parkinson’s disease and alpha-synucleinopathies, published by Dr. Caroline Williams-Gray and her team, supports the idea that these receptors may have potential as therapeutic targets. In their review, they have highlighted that there is increased interest in using treatments aimed at either preventing or stopping brain inflammation in these diseases.

“Toll-like receptors are critical for the activation of immune cells and inflammation in the brain – and evidence that they play a role in Parkinson’s disease is accumulating.” – Antonina Kouli (Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Cambridge)

Dr. Williams-Gray’s group also studies immune activation and inflammation in the blood in Parkinson’s disease patients. This work has implicated changes in immune cell types and function in Parkinson’s (Williams-Gray et al., 2018; Wijeyekoon et al., 2018; Scott et al., 2018), and has shown that patients who have more inflammation in the blood when they are diagnosed have more rapid progression of their disease (Williams-Gray et al., 2016). Their work to date on human post-mortem tissue confirms brain inflammation and specifically implicates Toll-like receptors in Parkinson’s disease and these findings will enhance our understanding of the neuropathological basis of Parkinson’s disease dementia, once published. Work is ongoing on the laboratory model, and due to complete in the next few months. If successful, this may pave the way for clinical trials of Toll-like receptor blocking drugs for use in the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.

Caroline Williams-Gray

“There is an urgent need to develop treatments that can halt or slow down the progression of Parkinson’s disease, as well as other neurodegenerative conditions which cause dementia. Suppressing brain inflammation is an exciting potential strategy which may be relevant to many of these diseases, and Toll-like receptors may provide a specific therapeutic target.” – Caroline Williams-Gray (Senior Clinical Research Associate, University of Cambridge & Honorary Consultant Neurologist, Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust)

Written by: Rebecca Downing and Dr. Caroline Williams-Gray

Bioengineering and saving babies’ lives

Bioengineering and saving babies’ lives

Dr. Tina Chowdhury is a Rosetrees Trust-funded researcher, leading a team of scientists in the field of regenerative medicine. She is based at the Institute of Bioengineering, School of Engineering and Materials Science, Queen Mary University of London, where she also plays an active role in science communication and public engagement alongside her academic roles.

Having recently given an exciting talk about saving babies’ lives, Dr. Chowdhury continues to inspire the next generation promoting subjects in STEAMM to young people at schools. The talk was chaired by Professor Brian Cox (OBE) who joined Dr. Chowdhury for a Question and Answer session. A short summary of her talk can be found on the Queen Mary University of London website.

Talk about saving babies’ lives inspires young people to become bioengineers

Dr. Chowdhury and her team, including Professor Anna David at UCL and Dr. David Barrett, have recently published the Rosetrees Trust-funded findings in Scientific Reports. This work was specifically about repairing fetal membranes to prevent preterm birth. A brief overview of the findings, can be found here on the Queen Mary University of London website.

You can also listen to the podcast from 12.15 where Tina was interviewed by Dr. Chris Smith, Naked Scientists.

This project has been very successful, generating five publications and one book chapter in total, as well as winning seven awards and prizes for the research. A project grant was awarded to Dr. Chowdhury and her collaborators from Great Ormond Street Hospital and Sparks children’s charities for the continuation of this work. Dr. Barrett achieved his PhD in March 2018, and worked as a Post-Doctoral Researcher funded by Sparks. Dr. Babatunde Okesola joined Tina’s team last month and is designing materials with nanotechnology to seal tears in fetal membrane defects.

In another Rosetrees Trust-funded project, Dr. Chowdhury and her team investigated a tissue engineering approach to repair defects in the windpipe of the unborn baby, using fetal stem cells. Studies from the PhD student working on this project, James Taylor, will contribute to a publication. This work will be important because of the particular emphasis on the novelty of using fetal-derived stem cells to generate chondrocytes.

Little Heartbeats is raising awareness for PPROM.

Dr. Chowdhury and her team are also receiving ongoing Rosetrees Trust funding for a project to heal fetal membrane defects and avoid preterm birth. This project combines technology in material chemistry, mechanobiology, biomechanics and imaging, to test therapies with fetal-on-a-chip mechanical models. The data obtained is in the early stages of this work and will be presented at the 23rd International Society for Prenatal Diagnosis and Therapy, Singapore in September 2019 and has been nominated for an Early Investigator award. This is a great opportunity for the PhD student working on this project, Eleni Costa, to showcase the latest findings from the team to leading experts in the field.

Here are a few words from Dr. Chowdhury: “In 2018, we established the Fetal Membrane Repair Network with a global community of scientists, clinicians, engineers, advocacy groups (Little Heartbeats) and children charities (Sparks, GOSH) to discuss ways to improve healing of the membranes after surgery or after the membranes rupture spontaneously. By working collaboratively with a multi-disciplinary team and by raising awareness about PPROM, we plan to develop a new clinical intervention that will improve healing, delay delivery and prevent preterm birth. We are very grateful to the Rosetrees Trust for supporting our research team and for inspiring the next generation of bioengineers.”

Written by: Rebecca Downing and Dr. Tina Chowdhury