Watch Dr Robb Wesselingh accept the research grant award and hear a bit about the project.
Your immune system exists within the human body to protect you against microscopic invaders such as bacteria and viruses. In some people this system instead incorrectly targets elements of your own body instead (autoimmunity). In the case of autoimmune encephalitis (AE) the immune system targets the brain causing damage and swelling called inflammation. This results in severe symptoms such as seizures, involuntary movements, poor memory and even coma.
This condition can be treated by dampening down or suppressing the immune system to prevent ongoing inflammation. At present patients with AE are treated until their symptoms have diminished. However, a significant number of patients will continue to have ongoing symptoms that can cause significant impairment and prevent them from returning to their previous life or employment. These symptoms can include memory issues, physical disability, low mood and difficult to manage seizures.
My research aims to use samples of blood from patients with AE and look at the way their immune cells are acting at a genetic level. This can help guide us to find previously unrecognised blood proteins that are associated with AE, particularly patients who have poor recovery from their illness. If we can identify these proteins, we may help doctors to diagnose patients more quickly, identify those with ongoing inflammation, and those that may continue to do poorly. This information is crucial for patients, their care givers and it assists with future development of tools for improved disease diagnosis, monitoring, patient counselling and treatment options.