Research

Natural protection

The human immune system protects the body throughout life, providing resilience to disease and degeneration. Understanding this immunity, how it breaks down with age or disease and how it responds to pathogens is critical to developing ways to prevent and treat infections, autoimmune diseases and allergy, and to improve strategies for transplantation.

Objective

To understand how resilience to disease and degeneration develops and breaks down, how it may be exploited for new interventions that improve disease processes, and how to repair it when it goes wrong.

Now

  • We support strong fundamental and translational research in immunology via, for example, the National Institute for Medical Research (which will transfer to the Francis Crick Institute) and the MRC Human Immunology Unit in Oxford.
  • We fund research into the basic understanding of pathogens for example through the MRC-University of Glasgow Centre for Virus Research and the MRC Centre for Molecular Bacteriology and Infection at Imperial College London.
  • We have developed interdisciplinary consortia in immune and infectious disease research – which have provided a model for future joint working across institutions and public/private sectors.
  • We support internationally respected global health research into infectious diseases and have boosted our investment in neglected tropical diseases.
  • We are developing a systems biology approach to understanding the immune system in both health and disease, and how it changes over the life course.

Future

We aim to deepen our understanding of the human immune system from early life through to old age using a combination of experimental medicine and modern approaches in systems and computational biology. We wish to accelerate the development of new immunotherapies — disease treatments which use the immune system — and treatments for immune diseases.

  • We aim to tackle the mechanisms of bacterial resistance to antimicrobial treatments and strengthen innovation in antimicrobial development through academic-industry partnerships.
  • We aim to exploit new technologies and create new ways of developing vaccines to prevent both infectious and non-communicable diseases.
  • Recognising the importance of the ‘One Health’ agenda, which highlights the links between animal and human diseases, and the opportunities of synthetic biology we wish to encourage interactions with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to achieve our ambitions in creating novel antimicrobials and vaccines.
  • We aim to understand the inherited, general (innate) immune response and the specific (adaptive) immune response acquired throughout life — and how these respond when faced with pathogens (the host-pathogen interface).
  • We seek to determine the role of diet in how the immune system develops and functions over the life course, as well as the role played by the microbiome.
  • We aim to use stratified medicine approaches to categorise people's responses to infectious diseases and determine why some people suffer more severe effects than others.
  • Working in partnership with the NIHR we wish to increase our ability to respond to new and re-emerging infections.

How

We will support discovery research and foster the interdisciplinary research environments required to tackle our resilience and response to diseases.

  • The Francis Crick Institute will provide such an environment, particularly for the investigation of fundamental immunology, and how humans and pathogens interact.
  • We will support centres of excellence and consortia that link the best academic science with clinical research and infrastructure and engage with industry and other partners to deliver innovation in areas of need such as vaccinology and antimicrobial resistance.
  • To maximise our investments, we will link existing centres of excellence to embark jointly on new research topics, for example, combining our strengths in immunology with those in nutrition research.
  • We will encourage robust studies investigating the link between changes in the microbiome and health.

Making an impact: The Mechanism of Severe Acute Influenza Consortium (MOSAIC)

This multi-centre study of patients hospitalised with severe influenza is funded by the MRC and the Wellcome Trust. MOSAIC brings together clinicians, geneticists and experts in disease modelling from across academic, charitable and public sector research organisations with the aim of progressing discovery research in the causes of severe influenza.

The study has identified a gene called IFITM3, variants of which could help explain why influenza becomes a life-threating disease to some people and has only mild effects in others. MOSAIC was the first such large-scale cooperative for pandemic influenza and has been used as the template for a far larger global consortium, the International Severe Acute Respiratory Infection Consortium (ISARIC), which tackles outbreaks of respiratory disease that have pandemic potential.