A/Professor Suzanne Hodgkinson has been working on autoimmune neurological diseases since 1982 and in 1994, her autoimmune research team started working with the transplant research team at Liverpool Hospital in a collaborative way. In 2005, the two groups joined resources to form the Immune Tolerance Laboratory.
The Immune Tolerance Laboratory conducts research into the cellular and cytokine mechanisms of immune tolerance that occurs in transplantation models, and models of autoimmunity. We use animal models of inbred rat strains bred in the Liverpool Animal House that are not Specific Pathogen-free (SPF), so the heart grafting and autoimmune experiments are performed to replicate human patients in a hospital and later, a community environment. We are examining how to modify the body's immune system to accept transplanted organs, to minimise and perhaps eventually eliminate the use of current toxic immunosuppressive regimens, and to alleviate autoimmune disease in patients to provide a better standard of living.
A/Professor Hodgkinson is the Chief Investigator on a NHMRC grant looking into work on Experimental Autoimmune Encephalomyelitis (EAE) and Experimental Autoimmune Neuritis (EAN), which are animal models of autoimmune neurological disease. EAN is the standard rat model for Guillain Bárre syndrome (GBS), a demyelinating disease of the peripheral nervous system causing partial to complete paralysis. EAE is the rat model for multiple sclerosis (MS), a demyelinating disease of the central nervous system causing partial to complete paralysis occurring mainly in young adults. We are testing methods of promoting the development of the antigen specific CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T regulatory cell and then using them to treat the disease.
Currently, chronic rejection of heart transplants is an ongoing issue. In our transplantation model, the focus is on the use of cytokines including late Th1 and Th2 cytokines, which specifically promote antigen specific tolerance towards grafted organs. We have recently tested this in a model of chronic rejection in the rat and have shown that the use of IL-5 alone can prevent and treat chronic rejection. At this point, clinically, there is no currently available treatment for chronic rejection. We are further exploring how we can switch on these Tregs so organ transplants can be clinically possible without the need for immunosuppression.