About the Institute

iia-about-bodyWe are the only centre in the UK to have brought together, under the same roof, a group of world-leading medical and scientific experts in human ageing, trauma and major illnesses with the same driver: inflammation.

Our partnership between the NHS and University brings basic scientists, clinicians and patient partners together to break down traditional bench to bedside, bedside to bedside and primary care-secondary care divisions that have prevented a truly integrated, multidisciplinary, patient-centred approach to treating chronic inflammation and ageing, an approach highly endorsed by patients.

This enables us to transform the way these chronic, debilitating and life-threatening conditions are studied, prevented and treated. Patients often suffer from more than one chronic inflammatory condition and so instead of looking at them separately, we consider them collectively. In this way we identify the major common drivers of ill health that can then be tackled to improve overall health rather than treating each disease individually. By working side-by-side, our specialists not only learn from each other, but they are also able to provide a holistic approach to treating patients.

Our innovative work also takes in trauma – and we are at the vanguard of new ways to help patients of all ages to recover from serious injury.

We have won four Centres of Excellence awards in as many years, the MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research, the Arthritis Research UK Centre for Rheumatoid Pathogenesis, the NIHR Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre and the Scar Free Foundation.  In 2016 we were awarded over £12 million for an NIHR BRC in Inflammation research.  In total these awards bring in over £30 million of vital funding.

Our research focuses on three main areas: 

Chronic Inflammatory Disease

We combine research with treatment in a novel way, with the aim of enhancing quality of life. For example, if a patient has inflamed gums, they won’t only be examined by a dental consultant; they will also see rheumatoid arthritis, eye, heart, lung and kidney specialists. Our Chronic Disease Research Cohort, eventually involving 3,000 patients, should provide answers to important questions, such as whether cardiovascular disease makes someone’s rheumatoid arthritis worse, and if successfully treating rheumatoid arthritis has a beneficial effect on a patient’s cardiovascular disease.

Early diagnosis of disease is often crucial to successful treatment, but the Rheumatology Research Group led by Professor Chris Buckley are working to identify inflammatory rheumatoid arthritis before it progresses. They are developing a biomarker assay that can be used by GPs to test on patients with mild joint inflammation. By identifying those at high risk of developing the condition, treatment can start immediately to prevent it progressing.

Respiratory research interests are wide ranging from primary lung epithelial and macrophage function, the effects of aging and respiratory disease upon neutrophil function and phenotype, to animal models of inflammatory lung disease, vitamin D biology, as well as biomarker development.

We undertake clinical trials in the areas of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, pneumonia, asthma, COPD and alpha-one anti-trypsin deficiency. There is also interest in lung cancer biology and identifying novel targets for therapy.

Trauma

We are already one of the national major trauma centres, treating civilians, but we also host the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine and thus also treat military personnel. A major focus of our work is to understand how we can best aid patients in recovery from trauma – whether they’re a young soldier or an older civilian. This work is funded through the NIHR SRMRC.

Controlling inflammation is key to the rehabilitation of trauma patients, and we are carrying out ground-breaking research to discover what happens in the first ‘golden hour’ after someone suffers a traumatic injury, which we know to be crucial in terms of how well and how quickly a patient recovers. Critical care workers take blood from a patient, which is then rushed to the lab to be examined for inflammation and immune cell function. This work promises to dramatically improve our understanding of trauma and develop assays to influence how a patient is treated in the immediate aftermath of a major injury.

Other novel research and treatments we are carrying out include:

  • Working with biomedical engineers to improve wound dressings and rebuild fractured joints;
  • Conducting studies to determine why older people cope less well with bereavement or trauma compared to the young;
  • Developing novel ways to stop the dramatic loss of muscle after an injury or major surgery, which reduces the recovery of the patient especially if they are older.

Ageing

Because we know inflammation drives many age-related diseases – the likes of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, cardiovascular and lung disease – our vision is to help ‘turn back the clock’ for millions of older people.

As well as using drugs to reduce inflammation, we focus on lifestyle. We are developing and testing innovative ways of exercise such as HIIT (high-intensive interval training), a 15-minute workout that is already proving extremely successful, with 85% of patients completing the programme and all of them losing weight (without also losing muscle).

As a result of cutting-edge research carried out by Institute Director Professor Janet Lord and Dr Elizabeth Sapey into the age-related deterioration of immune cells called neutrophils, which makes the elderly more susceptible to infection and physical frailty, we have discovered a drug that can improve neutrophil function. A clinical trial is now ongoing to see if the drug can reduce deaths of older people with pneumonia.  

Work in this area is supported by the MRC ARUK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research.