Neuroinflammatory diseases such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which affect the brain and spinal cord, are among the most serious health problems facing society today. These conditions pose a staggering personal, societal and economic burden: they affect tens of millions of people worldwide, and by 2050 this figure is expected to triple. Yet, there is no cure for these diseases and current treatments are only partly effective in alleviating symptoms and can be associated with serious side effects.
Neuroinflammatory conditions vary with respect to their clinical manifestations and they affect people of different ages and ethnicities, but they are all characterised by the gradual damage and loss of neurons - the cells that transmit signals from the brain and spinal cord to other parts of the body. As the diseases progress, neuronal dysfunction accumulates causing severe debilitation: patients can completely lose their memory or the ability to walk or speak.
The impact on sufferers and their families can be devastating and thus there is an urgent need to identify and develop new strategies for improved healthcare provision, but this is complicated by the difficulty of trying to study and to directly target neurons, given the relative inaccessibility of these cells.
The involvement of inflammation, an otherwise natural and innate response to injury and illness, is of particular interest in these diseases offering a novel avenue of study. Inflammatory mechanisms have been extensively studied in the context of other diseases, such as those arising due to infection, and thus present a more immediate avenue for identifying treatment options that can provide benefit across neuroinflammatory conditions.