Press Release

£1.6 million award will advance research that could lead to new treatments for a range of diseases

Published on 5 February 2021

A University of Dundee researcher has been awarded £1.6 million in funding to further his research into immune responses, which may produce insights into a variety of diseases, including asthma, obesity, and parasitic infections.

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Pic of Dr Henry McSorley

Dr Henry McSorley, from the University’s School of Life Sciences, has been granted a Wellcome Trust Investigator Award, designed to enable independent researchers to tackle the most important questions in science. 

His research focuses on identifying the molecules and molecular pathways by which parasitic worms interfere with the parts of immune system which cause allergy, kill parasites and control fat, and developing these findings towards new treatments for human immune-mediated diseases. 

The new funding will allow Dr McSorley and colleagues to continue research on a protein known as IL-33, a messenger molecule that is a particularly important aspect of the allergic immune response. 

IL-33 is released when the body senses harmful stimuli (such as parasitic worm infections), activating immune cells to fight off infection and heal damage. 

“IL-33 is important in a large range of diseases,” said Dr McSorley. “Its release suppresses weight gain and is required to eject parasitic worms, but conversely induces allergic diseases such as asthma.  

“By exploring the exact role of IL-33 and how it is controlled, we could develop new treatments for people living with a variety of diseases caused by the immune system, better understand obesity, and combat infections by parasitic worms, which affect hundreds of millions of people around the world. 

“Recently, we discovered that parasitic worms, in an effort to survive immune system assault, produce two molecules, called HpARI and HpBARI, which suppress IL-33 responses, responses that would otherwise kill them.  

“The Wellcome funding will allow us to take our research to the next level, investigating the ways in which parasites interact with the immune system to a degree of detail that was previously impossible. 

“We will now carry out further work to determine exactly how HpARI and HpBARI are so effective at blocking IL-33 responses and will also look at how the immune system stabilises IL-33 in the blood, sustaining its effects, and investigate which cells of the immune system respond to IL-33 in different organs.” 

The Wellcome Trust Investigator Award funding, which totals £1,661,908, will support this research over a five-year period. Throughout the project, the grant will employ two postdoctoral researchers and a technician for five years in Dundee, a postdoctoral researcher in Oxford for two years, and a technician in Uganda for three months. 

Enquiries

Jessica Rorke

Media Relations Officer

+44 (0)1382 388878

jrorke001@dundee.ac.uk

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Awards and accolades, Research