Trinity scientists have discovered a new target for regulating inflammation in the human body, potentially offering scope for new treatments for diseases like diabetes, cancer and Alzheimer’s.
The study, which was led by Dr Michael Carty and Dr Jay Kearney from the College’s School of Biochemistry and Immunology, uncovered the previously unknown role played by the protein SARM in humans’ immune responses.
Prof Ed Lavelle and Prof Padraic Fallon were also involved in the study, which was funded by Science Foundation Ireland.
Their research, which was today published in immunology journal Immunity, found that SARM is a key regulator of inflammasomes – tiny molecular machines that gather inside immune cells in cases of injury or infection and stimulate inflammation.
The more SARM within a cell, the scientists found, the smaller the quantity of an inflammatory mediator, called interleukin-1, that is produced.
More SARM leads to more cell death since SARM causes significant damage to mitochondria, the energy producers of the cell.
In a press statement, Carthy said: “We’ve been working to try to unlock the secrets of what this ancient protein does for some time, and it was a surprise to find that it could be a key regulator of the inflammasome, which may implicate SARM in inflammatory diseases.”
Andrew Bowie, who founded the first undergraduate immunology course in Ireland in 2001, said that “scientists already knew that SARM drives cell death in the brain, and as a result it is being investigated as a therapeutic target for neurodegeneration and related diseases, but here we found that it is also a key immune regulator in peripheral immune cells”.
“This discovery gives us hope that if we can successfully target SARM we may be able to regulate inflammation, which would provide a new option for treating a plethora of diseases”, he said.