Autoimmune Neurology Group
Our group aims to characterise the immune system in patients with autoantibody-mediated diseases of the nervous system to better diagnose and understand the underlying disease processes, and provide a rational approach to immunotherapies.
The immune system is our body's means of defence against harmful foreign substances such as bacteria and viruses. One of its roles is to produce antibodies, which are designed to selectively destroy disease-causing agents. Occasionally, however, antibodies attack the body itself, leading to an 'autoimmune' condition. Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, or thyroid disease, but can involve almost any organ. If the nervous system is affected, a variety of autoimmune neurological conditions can result.
Such conditions can affect any part of the nervous system, and the part targeted by the autoantibody will reflect the symptoms. For example, the brain is affected in a condition called encephalitis, and the spinal cord can be affected in myelitis. Increasingly, the distinctive nature of the patient's symptoms can help identify the underlying condition.
In many cases the autoantibodies can be depleted with treatment such as steroids and washing the blood with plasma exchange. But many patients don't respond well to the initial drugs, and require further medication to suppress the immune system. Patients are also often left with problems, typically involving memory, thinking or behaviour. There is a pressing need to develop new medications based on a better understanding of the conditions.
We are trying to characterise the cells which produce the antibodies in patients with these diseases. This would allow us to begin to understand which medications can destroy these cells and help reduce antibody levels. We are also working to better understand the residual symptoms in patients which may respond to novel medications. Find out more about our diagnostics and research work.