Brussels, 02 Jul 2004
Current treatments and drugs for chronic inflammatory conditions like arthritis and Alzheimer's can sometimes cause as much harm as they correct. Using post-genomic techniques, MAIN – an EU research network – will seek targeted responses to this major clinical problem.
Chronic inflammation – which includes conditions such as asthma, allergies, atherosclerosis and autoimmune diseases – makes life a nightmare of pain and suffering for millions worldwide. The body's inflammatory response, originally aimed at recognising and fighting foreign 'pathogens' or damaging agents, goes into overdrive and ends up damaging healthy tissue.
This process can decrease the patient's immune response and produce a host of undesirable side effects, say the team of scientists involved in MAIN, a new Network of Excellence (NoE) funded by the European Union under its Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) for funding research. MAIN – the Cell Migration and Inflammation project – is being backed with around €10 million in EU funds and aims to identify and characterise the molecular mechanisms underpinning chronic inflammatory responses.
The starting point for the initiative is to discover how to limit such immune overreaction without compromising the effectiveness of the inflammatory response. This is a huge task, one requiring a systems approach to biology, and taps into a range of post-genomic discoveries in Europe and beyond.
Joint attack on a complex condition
"The most effective strategy to overcome barriers to progress in chronic inflammation is to promote [synergy between] scientists from many disciplines," the network spells out, adding that it seems ill-advised in an era of "systems biology" to start such a huge undertaking by investigating several unrelated, albeit individually relevant, problems. Focusing on one process at a time, the participating scientists, including experts from 15 organisations across the Union and in Israel and Switzerland, as well as from the US' Cell Migration Consortium (CMC), hope to boost scientific and technological excellence in this field.
MAIN and the CMC will share information and technology platforms, while setting up a coordinated agenda of scientific events to communicate their research findings to a wider scientific audience and, ultimately, to the general public, explains Ruggero Pardi of the San Raffaele Scientific Institute, charged with coordinating the 150 or so researchers in the network. Included in these events are workshops and courses – such as one on the 'Pathophysiology of allorecognition', in mid-November this year – and major conferences.
The consortium will use the four-year project to set up and carry out its research programmes, which include creating tools, identifying and validating the targets, and developing new drugs. It will also support work in the fields of imaging, proteomics (mixing the study of proteins and genomics) and microarrays (or 'gene chips'), as well as core work in bioinformatics – the task of combining and analysing huge volumes of biological data.