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Cooling down an inflamed immune system

29 July 2013

Scope 51

When a good thing goes bad.

Inflammation is the body’s way of healing and protecting itself. The characteristic signs of inflammation - redness, heat, swelling and pain – are all attempts by the body to remove the cause of the injury and begin the healing process.

In most circumstances inflammation is beneficial. For example, if you fall over and skin your knee, the injured tissue cells release chemicals that stimulate blood flow and initiate the inflammatory immune response. Neutrophils are the first inflammatory immune cells to arrive at the injured site and function by neutralising any harmful bacteria. A second type of immune cell called macrophages, then aid the healing process by engulfing bacteria and dead cells so that the area is clear for new cells to grow. This form of short-term inflammation (acute) is switched off once the threat has been removed and the healing process is well underway.

Chronic inflammation arises when the inflammatory immune response is not extinguished completely. Like a slow-burning fire, the inflammation becomes self perpetuating – calling in more inflammatory immune cells when they are not needed. The end result is an excess of activated immune cells that cause damage to healthy tissues.

In Scope 50 we highlighted how uncontrolled inflammatory reactions in the gut can lead to inflammatory bowel disease and other gut health issues. In this issue of Scope we take a look at other diseases with excessive inflammation such as gout, metabolic syndrome and multiple sclerosis, and highlight the strategies our scientists are using to cool down these unwanted immune responses.

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