Transplantation Research Immunology Group (TRIG)
Professor Kathryn Wood, Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences, talks about the work of her group, the Transplantation Research Immunology Group (TRIG), and tells us about her recent experience taking part in the Royal Society Westminster Pairing Scheme.
Extracted from Issue 10, June 2014 OxfordMedSci News.
Tell us about the Transplantation Research Immunology Group (TRIG)
The Transplantation Research Immunology Group TRIG is a multi-disciplinary team of around twenty international scientists, clinicians and graduate students based in the Nuffield Department of Surgical Sciences. I established the group in 1982 and we have recently celebrated 30 years of science. Our research is focused on the immunobiology of cell and organ transplantation and, in particular, on determining strategies for the induction of tolerance by using biological therapeutic agents and cell therapies, particularly regulatory T cells and mesenchymal stromal cells. We are also investigating the mechanisms that the immune system uses to control itself with the objective of using these natural control mechanisms to prevent rejection. Our research programme encompasses basic, translational and clinical research and we work hard to ensure the results are taken from bench to bedside. We are also working on several ideas linked to personalised medicine where immunosuppressive therapies are tailor-made to the individual transplant recipient and therefore more effective and less toxic.
Why is the work of your research group so important?
Transplantation is the most effective therapy for treating organ failure and some forms of cancer. Transplants save lives, but the survival of a transplant is dependent on treatment with powerful immunosuppressive drugs that inhibit the immune system. The immunosuppressive drugs currently available for clinical use are undoubtedly effective, but they act non-specifically, suppressing the entire immune system not just the response targeted at the transplant.
Moreover, the drug therapy is required for the life-time of the recipient after transplantation. This means that transplant recipients experience a much higher incidence of cancer and infection and they require additional treatment for the toxic side effects of the drugs that can become more pronounced with increasing time after transplantation.
The induction of immunological unresponsiveness and ultimately tolerance to donor antigens, sometimes referred to as drug free or minimal immunosuppression, would have a major impact on improving long term graft survival and the quality of life of transplant patients. This could also mean a reduction on the burden on the NHS and a significant reduction in its costs.
You recently took part in the Royal Society Westminster Pairing Scheme – what was the idea of the scheme?
The scheme is designed to build bridges between Parliamentarians, Civil Servants and research scientists in the UK with a view to establishing longstanding links where both parties gain an understanding of the work behind the fundamental issues involved in each field. I was paired with Nicola Blackwood, MP for Oxford West and Abingdon and in December last year I spent a week in Westminster shadowing Nicola, followed by a reciprocal visit by Nicola to our lab in January 2014. We hope to continue a programme of visits and finds ways of collaborating in the future.
How did a week in Westminster compare to a week in the lab, and what did you learn?
The diversity of topics and issues that an MP has to understand and respond to in a ‘normal’ week in Westminster was impressive. My week in Westminster coincided with the Autumn Financial Statement and as Nicola is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Matt Hancock one of the government finance team, she was very actively involved in the debate and questions that followed.
Having attended the Science and Technology Select Committee question and answer session with the Chief Scientist, Sir Mark Walport, it became very clear that while data and evidence are critically important to the scientific debate at Westminster, not surprisingly, politics has a significant impact on policy development and decision making.
Before spending my week in Westminster, I was aware that there were relatively few MPs and Civil Servants with a scientific training or background, however I was surprised by just how few there are. Developing links with MPs, telling them about your science and submitting evidence to enquiries initiated by Select Committees is valuable and an effective way that scientists can inform and contribute to the debate.
If you would like more information about the Westminster Pairing Scheme see Westminster Pairing Scheme.
TRIG would like to acknowledge and thank its funders: The Wellcome Trust; The Medical Research Council; The European Commission; The British Heart Foundation; Kidney Research UK; Restore; The Oxfordshire Health Services Research Committee; Becton Dickinson; Astellas.
Top: Professor Kathryn Wood. Middle: Group member, Dr Stephen Juvet at work in the lab. Bottom: Kathryn Wood (left) and Nicola Blackwood discuss research issues during Nicola’s visit to TRIG