New funding for Scottish scientists to tackle diseases such as asthma and multiple sclerosis

Scientists at the University of Aberdeen have been awarded £196,166 to help fund pioneering research, which is exploring a method of combating certain conditions and diseases such as asthma and multiple sclerosis.

The grant was given to the team by Scottish Enterprise's Proof of Concept Fund, which is aimed at helping with the successful commercialisation of innovative research.

Researchers are trying to develop a ‘vaccine', which could switch off inappropriate and damaging responses made by some people's immune systems. Our immune system is designed to protect us from infectious agents, but for some people it makes the wrong response, which can lead to certain conditions and diseases.

Dr Mark Vickers, Senior Lecturer with the University's School of Medicine and Medicine and Therapeutics, is leading the research. He said: “Immune mediated diseases, which include allergies, and autoimmune disorders such as multiple sclerosis, food intolerance and graft rejection, have major health and economic impacts on Scotland and the rest of the developed world.

“The problem is current therapies are inadequate and can cause serious side effects. As well as that, they suppress the immune system non-specifically, which leaves patients open to infections.

“There is a need for treatments which can switch off only the damaging responses without impeding the body's resistance to infection and we are trying to develop ‘vaccines' which could do just that.”

The team are working towards a treatment that would mimic a technique used by a common virus - which many of us have – that selectively switches off the immune system's response to it, preventing the virus from being eliminated.

This kind of therapy could help all kinds of damaging immune response, but initially it would target asthma, coeliac disease and multiple sclerosis.

Dr Liz Rattray, Company Development Manager with the University's Research and Innovation department, said: “The concept of “switching off” is a strategy which the pharmaceutical industry is looking at. Research is already underway at the University of Aberdeen where this approach is being developed in the hope a cure can be found for women with Rhesus Negative blood who are at high risk of losing their babies.

“That project has already generated a lot of interest and I believe the work on immune mediated diseases will do the same. It has enormous potential for the pharmaceutical industry.”

* The Proof of Concept Fund was launched by the Scottish Executive and implemented by Scottish Enterprise in 1999 as a three year £11m fund – but its success led to this being extended to a £33m fund over six years.

It awards grants to assist the pre-commercialisation of leading edge technologies emerging from Scotland 's universities, research institutes and NHS Trusts. Its goal is to help researchers take their ideas and inventions out of the lab and develop them commercially into ground-breaking Scottish businesses.

http://www.abdn.ac.uk

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