Reduce the swelling: Why does chronic inflammation matter?

Inflammation is becoming increasingly popular as a “buzzword” for health claims and advice. Chronic or long-term inflammation is being implicated in all major illnesses: heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, neurodegenerative diseases, and even depression and cancer.

On the other hand, acute inflammation is part of the body’s natural response to infection and tissue damage. This happens when the immune system fights against something that may turn out to be harmful – it is crucial to the healing process.

Lawson Health Research Institute believes that inflammation is an important condition for study by all of its research programs. Knowledge in this area must be advanced. Lawson scientists are working to decode exactly how inflammation works and its links to disease and illness prevention.

On Oct. 12, Lawson hosted a Café Scientifique event to discuss inflammation and related research being conducted by our scientists. A panel of three experts explored how inflammation affects health and how this knowledge can be applied to improve health care. This was followed by questions from guests sparking insightful and interesting discussion.

Coming to grips with curling fingers: A cause and potential treatment for fibrosis of the hand

By Dr. David O’Gorman, Lawson Scientist and Co-Director of Molecular and Cellular Research at the Roth McFarlane Hand and Upper Limb Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Loss of tissue or organ function due to abnormal scarring, called fibrosis, contributes to about 40 per cent of all deaths in the Western world. Once fibrosis has started, none of the available treatments consistently prevent its progression or recurrence.

A gene called WT1 is well known for its role in promoting cancers. Increased activity of this gene has been recently noted in non-cancerous fibroses of the lung, liver, heart and hand.

“We have found that molecules secreted by the immune system induce the activity of WT1 and we hypothesize that chronic exposure to these molecules disrupts normal tissue repair and enhances fibrosis development,” says Dr. O’Gorman.

If increased WT1 activity – linked to inflammation in the body - induces fibrosis, there is real potential to target it with treatments and prevent fibrosis.

Inflammation and Cancer: Cause or Effect?

By Dr. Samuel Asfaha, Lawson Clinical Scientist practicing gastroenterology with a special interest in inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. 

Dr. Asfaha reviewed the evidence linking inflammation to cancer, discussed the mechanism for inflammation associated cancer, and provided an update on his work in colitis & colon cancer.

“Epidemiological studies show chronic inflammatory states increase the risk of numerours cancers,” says Dr. Asfaha. "We have long known that the same molecular targets and pathways that are activated or inhibited in inflammation are also involved in carcinogenesis."

In studies looking at the induction of cancer, an inflammation inducing agent is the required element for cancer to progress. Moreover, cancer cells secrete chemical signals that draw immune cells towards them to infiltrate the mass – inflammatory cells are present in growing tumours.

Molecular signatures: How do we listen to the music of inflammation?

Dr. Chris McIntyre, Director of the Lilibeth Caberto Kidney Clinical Research Unit at LHSC and Assistant Director for Lawson in the area of nephrology.

Dr. McIntyre believes that “we need to embrace uncertainties and reboot our scientific thinking.” He is forming a new collective that will take research to new places – and he can’t predict what will happen.

People are held in a ‘healthy’ sate by a complicated system of adaptive processes that are held in balance. When one or more of these mechanisms changes, the state moves out of balance and closer to disease. Instead of waiting for symptoms, a dynamic diagnostic may be able to register the relative state of one’s adaptive mechanisms.

The hypothesis is that the molecular composition of human bodily fluids at any given moment can measure the mechanism. By monitoring in real time, changes can detect the onset of inflammation and eventually disease before the onset of tissue injury.

This might involve a multichannel detector in contact with bodily fluid, similar to fingers striking strings of a harp. The interaction of passing molecules would result in a harmony of notes that produces ‘molecular music.’ Disease changes the music, giving an opportunity for early diagnosis and rapid assessment of specific treatments.

“We don’t need new treatments. We need to know the most ideal window of time to treat diseases,” says Dr. McIntyre.

See photos from the event on Lawson’s Facebook page