Inflammatory Disease Biology and Therapeutics Research

The Inflammatory Disease Biology and Therapeutics Research Group at Mater is investigating disease pathophysiology across three fronts connected by inflammation.

The lab’s work in cancer is focussed on molecules called cell surface mucins which are highly expressed by many cancers, including colon, lung and kidney cancers; they drive growth and protect the cancer cells from therapies. The ability of the cell surface mucins to do this is based on their natural function in infection, inflammation and epithelial wound repair. They have demonstrated that blocking a mucin called MUC13 can sensitise cancers to therapy and are now developing new drugs to enhance current therapies. MUC13 also suppresses immune responses against cancers opening the way to combination with immunotherapy.

The lab’s work in chronic inflammatory diseases of the gut (inflammatory bowel disease) and lung (bronchiectasis) investigates how chronic inflammation is established and seeks novel therapeutic approaches to reverse inflammation. The lab has established unique pre-clinical models and state-of-the-art culture techniques for growing intestinal tissue. Their pre-clinical studies are combined with patient studies collaborating with Mater gastroenterology and respiratory clinicians.

Another area of expertise is in the role of cytokine-induced protein misfolding and endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress in secretory cells in chronic inflammatory disease. The interests in ER stress led to a recent seminal finding, that stress in pancreatic beta cells is reversed by the cytokine IL-22 (published in Nature Medicine 2014). Beta cell stress is a fundamental component of disease pathophysiology in type 2 diabetes. Their pre-clinical studies show many benefits of IL-22 therapy and are now developing IL-22-based biologic drugs for diabetes therapy.

Group Leader

  • Prof Michael McGuckin