Imminent immunologist, Anshu Agrawal, traveled from India, to France, and then to the US to work on dendritic cells, the initiators and regulators of the immune system. As the first barriers of immunity, these cells act as messengers of the immune system, influencing the activity of the immune response. And according to Dr Agrawal, “manipulating them could offer therapeutic solutions for many diseases, including age-related pathologies”. Immune function inherently declines with age, leading to increased susceptibility to infections, reduced immune response and appearance of chronic inflammation. As such, respiratory diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and cancer are the three major pathologies that appear with old-age, according to the scientist. And she studies all three.
Anshu showed that the immune system, especially dendritic cells, are over-stimulated in aging. Older cells hence don’t respond as well to infection and display increased response against self. This often leads to chronic inflammation and loss of tolerance in patients. Aging of these dendritic cells that act as sentinels of the lung mucosa directly impacts reparatory afflictions, but also the brain. According to Dr Agrawal, “peripheral inflammation could be leading to the cognitive decline in neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s. Looking at how dendritic cells are becoming activated in Alzheimer’s patients could be key to clearing aggregated proteins causing the symptoms.”
As for cancer, Anshu is looking at tumor microenvironments where immune cells are generally suppressed. Dendritic cell manipulation blocks the elimination of tumors by the body. Over the last decades, the development of immune checkpoint inhibitors capable of enhancing immune activation directed at tumors has been a turning point for the fight against cancer . “And in the years to come, therapies based on immune activation through various pathways will be of broad therapeutic interest”, adds the scientist.
As humans live longer, age related diseases are becoming ever more problematic. Research on aging has shifted accordingly throughout the years according to Dr Agrawal, “earlier the focus was more on longevity and how to enhance lifespan, but these days the search is more focussed on how to improve general immune health, as that is the underlying cause for most diseases. There is no point living longer if you can’t have good health in old age.”
So where to start? From an immunological perspective, there is nowadays considerable interest in adjuvants that would work in aged subjects. The baseline inflammation in the elderly seems to impact vaccine efficiency so there is a lot at stake in finding adjuvants which would enhance the immune response against the vaccine but not induce inflammation. But studies of the immune system can have less evident impacts. Our knowledge of neurodegenerative diseases has led the science to focus less on the cerebral afflictions of the pathologies and more on the neuro-immune components. In this regard, microbiology and the gut-immune axis are taking an ever more important place in the research.
More generally, research in immunology has gone from concentrating on immune-immune cell interactions to now focusing on how immune cells react with other cells in the body, how that leads to disease and how we can target that to find new immunotherapeutic drugs. This has resulted in a rise in immune-based therapies or immunotherapies, gradually complementing chemical-based drugs. Chronic underlying inflammation seems to be contributing to all the previously mentioned diseases. Understanding the molecules involved and the mediators of this inflammation has become urgent to target and develop new drugs – Mediators of Inflammation publishes relevant research for that purpose. “Other journals focus more on immunology itself, Mediators of Inflammation concentrates more on a specific universal reaction of the immune system: inflammation – which is there to eliminate the initial cause of cell injury, clear out necrotic or damaged cells, activate inflammatory processes, and initiate tissue repair.”
Moving forwards, the journal will channel more recent topics. “Right now, we need to focus on publishing quality science that is as useful and important as possible and do faster reviews of the papers we are publishing. Sometimes it can take me months to find a reviewer for a paper. As such, we are looking into providing more incentive to the reviewers and contacting younger researchers, who might have more benefits from reviewing papers, instead of only contacting more established members of faculty, ” explains Anshu.
“We also want to open a dialog between the readers and the journal. Some journals have blogs and I think we should find ways to highlight some of the science we publish. There are always some papers that have more impact than others and it would be good to broadcast that content in the journal but also in an online blog so that our audience can have easy access to the content with most impact. Nobody has time to go through so many journals and so many papers, at least that way people will catch a glimpse at articles they wouldn’t have noticed otherwise,” concludes the researcher.
It is not enough to just research new topics, the right people need to be aware that the research exists. Through her work in the lab and alongside the editing team of Mediators of Inflammation, Dr Agrawal will continue to drive the publication of important discoveries in inflammation research.
This blog post is distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY). The illustration is by Hindawi and is also CC-BY.