From friend to foe: what drives MS to turn our immune systems against us?

For MS Awareness Week, researchers from our Division of Brain Sciences explain how their efforts in understanding the mechanism behind MS is driving the search for new drug targets. 


I have always been fascinated by how the immune system protects our body by identifying attackers and fighting them off. It’s a remarkable undertaking: it must recognise and protect us from any number of harmful molecules produced by a huge array of invading organisms. Sometimes, however, this system can go wrong. For instance, in the case of multiple sclerosis (MS), the immune system erroneously attacks the myelin – a fatty covering that protects our nerves – in our own central nervous system. This produces the chronic accumulation of demyelinated MS lesions that lead to the clinical symptoms of the disease. (more…)

Banking on brains: the quest for new methods of treatment for Parkinson’s

Parkinson's

For World Parkinson’s Day, Ben Tilley highlights how brain tissue donated to Imperial’s Tissue Bank is instrumental in finding new methods of treatment for Parkinson’s. 


My personal journey with Parkinson’s disease (PD) research started six years ago. It was the summer of 2012, and while enjoying the London Olympics and preparing myself to start Medical School at Imperial College London, my father was developing symptoms of PD. When the diagnosis was made I knew what my career goal would be; I had to study this disease and I had no ambitions other than to become a neurologist in the future. (more…)

Encephalitis: the rare disease with a million implications

 

22 February is World Encephalitis Day. Founded by The Encephalitis Society four years ago, it aims to help raise awareness of the disease on an international scale.


In a nutshell, encephalitis refers to the inflammation of the brain. Up until recently, it was thought that encephalitis was simply either a viral or bacterial infection. However, in 2005, research described a new version of the disease: auto-immune or ‘anti-NMDAR encephalitis’, which is caused by antibodies that attack the brain tissue. In all its forms, encephalitis is incredibly rare: herpes simplex encephalitis (HSE), for instance, affects approximately one in 1,000,000 children. Although there are clear treatment routes available, viral encephalitis is incredibly destructive. The virus can cause irreversible damage in the brain, which will continue to impact upon a patient’s quality of life well after their short-term recovery from the disease itself. (more…)

Could gut hormones help make Dry January last all year?

After the excesses of Christmas and New Year, it has become fashionable for January to be promoted as a time for reassessment and resolutions. There are promises and attempts at living a healthier lifestyle, including stopping drinking alcohol (‘Dry January’), joining that gym, stopping smoking, and eating better. However, we know how difficult it is to maintain behaviour change over the longer term. People start drinking excessively again, put back on the weight they lose, start smoking again, and their attendance at the gym wanes. For people who have hazardous levels of drinking, and those who are dependent on alcohol, this is particularly problematic.

If people manage to stop drinking alcohol, we know that there are high relapse rates. In some studies, 60% of people with alcohol dependence have started drinking alcohol again after 6 months of abstinence. This is often precipitated by exposure to social events and situations where there is drinking, and stresses with family, job, and social circumstances. What is needed are strategies to help prevent relapse into drinking. While psychological and group support can be of benefit, there is also a potential role for medications to help reduce the craving for alcohol and the response to stress.

The Division of Brain Sciences in the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London are currently running a research study in this area. We are investigating the potential benefit of a completely novel therapeutic strategy to prevent relapse in alcohol dependence. This is the ‘Gut Hormone in Addiction’ (GHADD) Study, funded by the Medical Research Council. This is targeting hormones from our guts, which can act on our brain to influence eating and addictive behaviours. (more…)

Alcohol Awareness Week: seeking a responsible alternative


Most of us are aware that chronic, heavy alcohol consumption and binge drinking leads to a plethora of health issues including liver damage and addiction. However, many of us are still unaware of the dangers associated with even moderate alcohol consumption or the cumulative effects that alcohol can have on our health. So just what are those regular trips to the pub, or the frequent cocktails after work really costing us?

Research into effects of alcohol provide a range of results. Some research (funded by the alcohol industry) has even been claimed to demonstrate that alcohol consumption is actually beneficial to our physiological health. Conversely the International Agency for Research into Cancer has demonstrated that the more alcohol you drink directly increases the risk of seven common cancers including: mouth, throat, oesophageal, larynx, breast, liver and bowel.

Similarly, new research published in the British Medical Journal has revealed a potential link between moderate drinking and shrinkage of the hippocampus, a brain region associated with memory. These results suggest a link between moderate alcohol consumption and a potentially permanent alteration in brain structure. (more…)