Our research

body-our-research

Research Centres of Excellence in the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing

Inflammation research in Birmingham has now coalesced around the interdisciplinary Centres of excellence present in the Institute of Inflammation and Ageing and also the Centre for Liver Research.  We aim to identify shared biological mechanisms that define the functional features of chronic inflammatory disease by integrating disease specific expertise. Our work co-locates basic and clinical scientists working on inflammation in the joints, liver, lung, eye and kidney and in trauma, as well as part of normal human ageing. 

We also work closely with the new Queen Elizabeth Hospital at Birmingham and the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine.  They provide outstanding facilities and patient cohorts, including major trauma victims.  We study immune mediated inflammatory disease, resolution of inflammation, age-related inflammation (inflammageing) and trauma.  Our aim is to build capacity in this area and to foster collaboration between basic scientists and clinical academics.  Our focus on common processes underlying chronic inflammatory disease has led to new insights into mucosal inflammation, rheumatoid arthritis, renal vasculitis, chronic inflammatory lung disease (COPD) and spondylarthropathies. 

We are continuously investing in major developments, expansion and improvements to our clinical research facilities. Our basic and translational research strengths have been recognised through the award of external funding to support a number of Centres of Excellence allowing us to stay at the forefront of medical research and deliver the very latest scientific research findings.

ARUK Rheumatoid Arthritis Pathogenesis Centre

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your joints. The main symptoms are joint pain and swelling. It’s the second most common form of arthritis in the UK and there are over 400,000 new cases in Europe and the US each year.

Arthritis Research UK is sponsoring this project, a partnership between the University of Birmingham, the University of Glasgow and the University of Newcastle to speed up the progress towards finding a cure for this debilitating disease.

Healing Foundation Centre for Burns Research

The Healing Foundation Centre for Burns Research looks at understanding how the body responds to burn injury and developing new treatments. The centre is based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham and is a partnership between University Hospitals Birmingham, University of Birmingham, Ministry of Defence, Birmingham Children’s Hospital, University College London and the Royal Free Hospital in London. 

MRC Arthritis Research UK Centre for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research

This collaborative research venture between Birmingham and Nottingham Universities aims to understand how ageing results in loss of musculoskeletal function and to use this knowledge to intervene and minimise age-related musculoskeletal decline and disease. The major focus of our interventions is on exercise and diet, incorporating motivational psychology research to underpin improved uptake and adherence to lifestyle changes. The Centre will also use the facilities on both sites to train the next generation of researchers, building capacity in this vital area and ensuring older adults are able to enjoy rather than endure old age. 

The National Institute for Health Research Surgical Reconstruction and
Microbiology Research Centre (NIHR SRMRC)

The National Institute for Health Research Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology Research Centre (NIHR SRMRC) is a national centre for trauma research, taking discoveries from the military frontline to improve outcomes for all patients in the UK.

It brings together pioneering advances in surgery and infection by both military and civilian scientists as well as clinicians to deliver excellence in innovation in a complex area of acute care.

Launched in 2011, the centre shares its knowledge gained from treating seriously injured military and civilian patients, with the wider NHS. Based at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham (QEHB), the centre harnesses expertise from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), University of Birmingham (UoB), and QEHB and has been funded over five years with a total of £15 million investment (£5 million QEHB and UoB; £5 million MoD; £5 million NIHR).

Arthritis Research UK Experimental Arthritis Treatment Centre

Research in Birmingham has demonstrated that fibroblasts (a type of cell responsible for defining the structure of the lining layer of the joint) are programmed from an early stage in the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) to damage the joint and lead to persistent inflammation. This programming of fibroblasts is even observed when fibroblasts are taken away from the joint environment and is therefore “hard wired”. Our aim is to develop experimental treatments to target fibroblasts either by killing off specific groups of fibroblast cells, or reprogramming them early on in disease so that they no longer become destructive but help repair the joint. 

Research areas and groups

From rheumatoid arthritis to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)and the long term consequences of major injury, our research focusses on finding solutions to a range of chronic inflammation driven illnesses through a highly collaborative approach with University Hospitals Birmingham. The institute also addresses the issue of ageing, which is accompanied by low level inflammation which makes older adults more susceptible to diseases such as dementia, cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.  

Our major research areas

Ageing Research Group

Group lead: Professor Janet M Lord

It is becoming clear that systemic inflammation drives many age-related diseases – the likes of osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, cardiovascular and lung disease are all associated with increased inflammation – our vision is to understand the drivers of this age-related inflammation in order to improve the health of older people.

Cutting-edge research carried out by Institute Director Professor Janet Lord and Dr Elizabeth Sapey into the age-related deterioration of immune cells, specifically neutrophils, has shown that their ability to migrate to a site of infection is significantly reduced as we age. This defect in migration not makes older adults more susceptible to infection but also contributes to systemic inflammation. These researchers have now discovered a drug that can improve neutrophil migration and a clinical trial is now ongoing to see if the drug can reduce deaths of older people with pneumonia.

As well as using drugs to reduce inflammation, research in the Institute also studies 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  adults in a recent study completing the programme and all of them losing weight (without also losing muscle).

Neuroscience and Ophthalmology Research Group

Group lead: Professor Ann Logan

Trauma to the brain, spinal cord and eye, whilst presenting diverse clinical challenges and management approaches, by and large shares common mechanisms, epidemiology and several pathophysiological aspects, including inflammation. The Neurotrauma research area encompasses laboratory scientists, clinicians and biotechnologists who share expertise, knowledge and solutions. This area carries out translational research to address the challenges of military and civilian trauma, and to underpin clinical studies at the NIHR SRMRC in Birmingham or at national and international collaborating institutions.

Within this group are researchers working on neurodegeneration, which encompasses a large group of diseases associated with specific pathology and neuronal death in different parts of the nervous system. This team works on a wide range of topics relating to acute and chronic neurodegenerative diseases. Current research programmes seek to illuminate the dysregulated molecular and cellular processes that occur in neural tissue after neurotrauma, including traumatic brain, spinal cord and ocular injuries, and to develop novel neuroreparative therapies that aid functional restoration of damaged tissues.  They also work on the genetics and cellular pathologies of chronic neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis and Glaucoma. Based on our understanding of the cellular pathology associated with these diseases, including inflammation, they aim to develop early disease biomarkers and novel therapeutic interventions.

Renal Research Group

Group lead: Professor Lorraine Harper

Renal Research is associated with the Institute of Inflammation and Aging. Research within the group is geared to better understanding mechanisms of disease and developing strategies for prevention and treatment. Many research projects are "translational" in nature, and combine high quality basic science research on a backbone of accurate disease phenotyping.

Renal research interests are wide ranging these include:

  • Clinical outcomes in ANCA-associated vasculitis with clinical and translational observational studies investigating the role of the ageing immune system and immunodeficiency, and the role of CMV in driving this change. Applied studies include understanding fatigue and the use of interventions to improve this and reducing morbidity associated with disease and treatment. We also undertake Clinical trials in collaboration with the European Vasculitis Study Group (EUVAS) focusing on optimising the short to medium term use of intensive immunosuppression for acute disease (L Harper, M Morgan, D Chanouzas).
  • Transplantation - Interests focus on improving the outcomes of renal transplantation through clinical and translational strategies. Many of these studies involve clinical phenotyping of transplanted cohorts, and correlation between risk factors (immunological and non-immunological) and outcomes and identifying novel diagnostic tools to predict longterm outcome (S Ball, R Borrows).
  • Chronic kidney disease – interests focus on the use of bioclinical determinants, such as polyclonal light chains, in predicting disease progression using the Renal Insufficiency in Secondary Care (RIISC) cohort. Other areas of interest include the role of inflammation driving cardiovascular disease in chronic kidney disease (P Cockwell, C Ferro)

There is an active junior academic training programme for Academic Foundation, ACFs, OOPR and Lecturers for trainees in Renal Medicine interested in an academic career.

Respiratory and PACCT Research Groups

Group leads: Professor David Thickett (Respiratory) & Professor Fang Gao (PACCT)

Respiratory Research and the Peri-operative and critical care trials group (PACCT) are co-located within the Institute of Inflammation and Aging.

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.

The PACCT group undertakes clinical and observational translational research in critical and peri-operative care areas. The Group conducts systematic reviews, randomised controlled trials (phase II-IV), risk modelling and population cohort studies. Our clinical trials investigate pharmacological interventions for prevention of and treatment for postoperative acute lung injury and severe sepsis, compare anaesthetic techniques for incidence of postoperative delirium and long-term chronic pain. We build risk prediction models for patient-centered outcomes in patients undergoing emergency laparotomy and in children following out of hospital cardiac arrest. Our translational research studies the pathophysiology of pneumonia, severe sepsis and sepsis related ARDS. The Group undertakes animal models of sepsis and lung injury using genetically modified animals. There is an active interest in mesenchymal stem cell therapy for ARDS.

There is an active junior academic training programme for ACFs and Lecturers in Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine for trainees interested in an academic career.

Research groups

  • Acute Lung Injury and Sepsis
  • COPD and alpha-one anti-trypsin Deficiency
  • Interstitial Lung Disease
  • Lung Cancer
  • Basic Lung Science
  • Inflammatory Lung Disease
  • Read more about about PACCT

Clinical Trials

  • Vindaloo-1  (An open label dose ranging study to optimise vitamin D levels prior to oesophagectomy
    Vitamin D open label replacement oesophagectomy
    Funded by Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Vindaloo-2
    Vitamin D replacement to prevent acute lung injury following oesophagectomy - a randomised placebo controlled trial
    Protocol
    Funded by Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • Balti-Prevention
    The Beta Agonist Lung Injury Trail (BALTI) - prevential trial protocol
    The study has been supported by a grant from the National Institute of Health Research for Patient Benefit Programme
  • Simvastatin as Adjuvant Therapy to Correct Neutrophil Dysfunction in Older Pneumonia Patients
    - A randomised double blind placebo controlled trial
    Funded by the British Lung Foundation and the University of Birmingham
  • Midlands Lung Tissue Collaborative
    Use of tissue from lung resections to investigate the molecular and functional mechanisms of human lung disease
    Funded by Wellcome Trust and AstraZeneca UK Limited
  • Alice Pneumonia Trial
    Use of early mobilisation to reduce incidence of hospital acquired pneumonia in medical inpatients
    Funded by the Hospital Infection Society and the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust

Rheumatology Research Group (RRG)

Group lead: Professor Christopher Buckley

The overarching objective of our Group is to improve clinical outcomes for those with, and at risk of developing Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Sjogren’s syndrome (SS) and Systemic Lupus (SLE) by developing diagnostic tests,  drugs and cell based therapies to predict, prevent and reverse disease pathology. A unique feature of our translational research is that we have pioneered a first in class, “process driven” approach to the biology of inflammatory arthritis. A particular strength of research in Birmingham is our therapeutic targeting of the tissue microenvironment and our skills in comparing and contrasting the biological processes underpinning the development, maintenance and resolution of inflammation in RA SS. This process driven approach has allowed us to develop biologically meaningful and therapeutically tractable links to the other research in Inflammation biology. We have outstanding strengths in basic science discovery as evidenced by the depth of our scientific research and the volume of targets in ourtranslational pipeline that underpin our approach to immune mediated inflammatory diseases (IMIDs).

Trauma Research Groups

Group Leads: Professors Antonio Belli & Ann Logan

Birmingham is 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 research is to understand how we can best aid patients in recovery from trauma – whether they’re a young soldier or an older civilian.

Controlling inflammation is key to the recovery and 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 doctors 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, early diagnosis of brain injury and will in the future 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.