Monday 17 July 2017

Nicola Jayne Wetz (nee Cole)

With great sadness I have to announce the passing of my friend Nicola Jayne Wetz (nee Cole).  Nicola slipped away peacefully surrounded by her family on Friday 30th June.

Many of you will remember Nicola from her famous visit to see us at the TEDxNewcastle conference back in 2014.  In The Patient Who Changed My Life I told the story of meeting Nicola for the first time.  As a junior hospital doctor, we first met when Nicola was quite literally at death’s door.  Her life was saved at that time by an experimental new drug, CAMPATH-1H.   This experience changed not only Nicola’s life, but also shaped my future career, and we remained in touch.

Sadly, that drug was not a cure - Nicola continued to wrestle with complex health problems - but she bore this with a smile and went on to lead a full life, with great fortitude.  She completed her college studies, got married, took a job working at the International Council for Bird Preservation, and visited numerous countries throughout Europe and North America. 

Nicola touched not just my life, but the lives of everyone she met.  She continued her charity work supporting medical research, and bore her difficulties with dignity and good humour.

“Every cloud has a silver lining!” was one of her favourite sayings.

Nicola will be greatly missed.  Our thoughts are with her family, and with her devoted husband Matthew, at this difficult time.

Nicola’s funeral will take place on Wednesday 19th July at West Suffolk Crematorium, Bury St Edmunds at 1545hrs.

Professor John Isaacs, Institute of Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University

Nicola Jayne Wetz (nee Cole)

Matthew and Nicola - The Wedding 

Matthew and Nicola joined us for TEDxNewcastle

John and Nicola - 2014

Friday 14 July 2017

Therapeutic Tolerance – First-in-Human Data

Newcastle University: June 27-30 2017

Every four years, the top names in immunology and immunotherapy gather here in Newcastle for the International Therapeutic Tolerance Workshop.  This year the meeting drew the largest attendance since the workshop began back in 2005.  Back then the idea of developing therapies to ‘re-set’ the immune system was well established in pre-clinical models but progress in human autoimmunity and transplantation had been very slow.  Many felt it would not be possible to translate the pre-clinical data into patients, and there appeared to be numerous obstacles.  But Professor John Isaacs believed the way forward was an international meeting bringing together the key players from across the world.

The first meeting (Therapeutic Tolerance – Myth or Reality?) asked whether tolerogenic therapies were ever likely to play an important role in transplantation and autoimmunity.  By the second meeting in 2009 (Therapeutic Tolerance – Closer to Reality?) attendees were able to report on promising developments including the advent of cellular therapies to reprogram dysregulated immune systems.  At the third meeting in 2012 we heard of prospective trials of therapies ranging from peptides to cellular therapies.  And so, it was with some excitement that delegates gathered last week to hear the results of those trials at this year’s meeting on ‘First-in-Human Data’.

This year, clinicians and scientists - from as far afield as Australia and California - gathered to share exciting data on the first studies in patients.  Patients with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, transplant patients and patients with ME and diabetes.  In addition, we were joined by oncologists working at the other end of the spectrum to ‘break’ immune tolerance.  They described new treatments and therapies promoting immune attacks on cancer cells.

The meeting opened with a keynote address by Professor Ron Germain of the National Institute of Health in the US and his breath-taking time-lapse three-dimensional video showing neutrophil swarming and the immune system in action.  Professor John Isaacs introduced the first session on Cellular Mechanisms of Tolerance before handing over to Professor Andy Mellor introducing the session on breaking immune tolerance.  With plenty of food for thought, delegates dined that evening at the Biscuit Factory in Newcastle.

The next day included short presentations on topics as diverse as immune dysregulation in childhood and immunotherapy in Type 1 diabetes, followed by sessions on New Concepts in Tolerance and Biomarkers.  In addition to these formal sessions, the debates at the end of the second and third days were one of the highlights of the meeting.  Always hugely entertaining, these debates provide a forum permitting scientists to challenge the very foundations of our current research.  No surprise then that Professors Herman Waldmann and Steve Cobbold went straight for the jugular in the first debate ‘Therapeutic Tolerance: Just Around the Corner? Or Pie in the Sky?’  The debate ran over into small group discussion in the local hostelries later that evening.

The following day continued with three engaging sessions on Cellular Therapies, Peptides, and Tolerogenic Antibody Therapies.  Our very own Professor Muzz Haniffa then gave a stand-out performance on the therapeutic implications of the new dendritic cell taxonomy.  The day rounded off with Professors Mike Ehrenstein and Ethan Shevach debating the controversial topic of whether regulatory T-cells have anything at all to do with the pathogenesis of human autoimmunity! Following a heated debate with far-reaching implications, discussions continued at the Wylam Brewery where delegates where entertained by Professor John Isaacs and his saxophone band – Saxophonics.

The last day kicked off with a thought-provoking keynote address from Professor Lars Klareskog of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.  Lars described the work of his team on the etiology of autoimmune disease and the opportunities for early intervention and prevention of rheumatoid arthritis, potentially even before patients have symptoms.  This was followed by sessions on Metabolism and Metabolomics including talks on anti-anabolic drugs, immunosuppression, metabolism and inflammation.  The final session on Immunotherapeutics included the latest data from Professor Jaap van Laar from Utrecht on haematologic transplantation for autoimmunity before Professor David Wraith wound the session up with a thought-provoking vision for Therapeutic Tolerance twenty years from now in 2037.

Many of the Faculty have agreed to prepare articles based on their talks, for publication in a forthcoming ‘e-book’ in Frontiers in Immunology


Wednesday 12 July 2017

III Laboratory Opening Ceremony 30th June 2017

Professor Ethan Shevach of the National Institute of Health in the US kindly opened the new Immunology, Inflammation and Immunotherapy Laboratory for us.  Professor Shevach was given a tour of the new facilities on the third floor of the Leech Building within the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University.  Ethan confessed to a certain amount of envy at the new laboratory!  Before unveiling a commemorative plaque, Professor Shevach congratulated the project team on a clever design promoting good scientific interactions before wishing everyone well on this latest stage of our research journey.

Professors John Isaacs, Sophie Hambleton & Andy Mellor invite Professor Ethan Shevach to unveil the plaque to the new laboratories.

Patients in Research - Helen Hanson Interview

Our very own Helen Hanson interviewed for Nursing Standard - spread the word about research!

JIA Paper

Young people get arthritis too!  Well done Helen Hanson with another useful paper on JIA...

Hanson H, Hart R, Thompson B, McDonagh J, Tattersall R, Jordan and Foster HE (2017). Experiences of employment amongst young people with juvenile idiopathic arthritis: a qualitative study. Disability and Rehabilitation, doi: 10.1080/09638288.2017.1323018.

Toshiko Ito-Ihara visiting MRGNewcastle

Former MRG colleague Professor Toshiko Ito-Ihara from Kyoto University is visiting us in Newcastle with her 13-year old son Ken.