Head of Division - Dr Anne O'Garra

Infectious diseases are a leading cause of death worldwide, and are increasing in almost every nation. They are also among the biggest disablers. Almost 90% of deaths from infectious diseases are caused by only a handful of diseases. Most of them have plagued mankind throughout history, often ravaging populations more effectively than wars. Protection from infection is the task of the immune system, a complex network of cells and their products, which have evolved to recognise and eradicate a wide variety of pathogens. Timely and efficient activation of the immune system is vital to our ability to survive infection. An essential feature of the immune response to an infectious microorganism is that it is enhanced by a second exposure (i.e. has memory) and this quality forms the basis for vaccination. However, excessive or aberrant activation of the immune system can cause damage to host tissues and, in certain cases, can be responsible for much of the pathology associated with infectious disease (immunopathology). Furthermore, inappropriate immune activation can result in autoimmune and autoinflammatory conditions. The immune system is therefore subject to intricate regulation, in order to control its response and prevent such damage.

Research in the Division is concerned with the precise mechanisms of pathogenesis and immune control of infectious disease. Emphasis is given to those bacterial and viral infections, which represent a major threat to human health worldwide and against which vaccines are unavailable or inefficient. We aim to understand how the immune response to infection is regulated at the molecular and cellular level, to identify factors that sway the complex interaction between the infectious microorganisms and the immune system and allow infections to overcome our immune defences, and to use this knowledge to induce or enhance protective immunity against infection. The goal of our research is to lay the basis for improved diagnostic methods and vaccination strategies for the prevention or treatment of infectious diseases.

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