New approaches for treating chronic inflammation and pain


Professor Nigel Bunnett

20 August 2010

In this Australia Fellowship podcast, 2010 Fellow Professor Nigel Bunnett, currently at the University of California, talks about his work researching chronic inflammatory diseases - arthritis, asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and cardiovascular diseases related to obesity and diabetes.

Professor Bunnett will be coming to the University of Sydney to take up his Australia Fellowship later this year. His aim is to investigate the basic mechanisms that underlie indicators of inflammation and pain, and hopefully identify new approaches to therapy. According to Bunnett some current palliative options for treating inflammation and pain have limited effectiveness and unacceptable side effects.

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Transcript of podcast

Voice-over: Welcome to this National Health and Medical Research Council podcast. Our podcasts aim to keep you in touch with major health and medical research issues and the people who shape them.

Introduction: Hello my name is Carolyn Norrie and I’m speaking today to Professor Nigel Bunnett who’s currently at the University of California, but will be coming later this year to the University of Sydney to take up his Australia Fellowship.

Interviewer: Professor Bunnett congratulations on your Fellowship.

Prof. Bunnett: Thank you Carolyn.

Interviewer: You’re working in chronic inflammation. Can you tell me a bit about your work?

Prof. Bunnett: Yes I’d be happy to. We’re interested in chronic inflammatory diseases for example inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, asthma and cardiovascular diseases related to obesity and diabetes, which are of global importance and a major cause of human suffering. Yet despite this, these diseases are difficult to diagnose and treat. My laboratory seeks to understand the basic mechanisms that signal inflammation and inflammatory pain with the aim of discovering new approaches for therapy and diagnosis. I think what’s particularly interesting of course is that inflammation and pain are normal and essential mechanisms for survival. They’re highly conserved between species and inflammation protects against infection, and pain allows an organism to detect and avoid harmful stimuli. In diseases however, something goes awry such that these protective mechanisms are now detrimental. Our view is that inflammation and pain are normally under tight control, which ensures that responses are of an appropriate magnitude and duration, and that defects in these control mechanisms underlie disease. Unfortunately little is known about the basic mechanisms of signalling by mediators of inflammation and pain and this is a major topic of our current work. Our aims are to identify new mediators of inflammation and pain, such as proteases, neuropeptides, bile acids and their receptors, and to understand how they signal at the molecular, cellular and whole animal level. And to examine whether defects in these signalling mechanisms cause disease.

Interviewer: What sort of problems do you find with current approaches to inflammatory pain?

Prof. Bunnett: Some of the problems with inflammation and inflammatory pain are that these conditions are not adequately treated. Current therapies for inflammation and pain are palliative, they often have limited effectiveness and unacceptable side effects, and by investigating the basic mechanisms that underlie signalling of inflammation and pain we hope to identify essential mediators and new targets. Another problem is that diagnosis of chronic inflammatory diseases is often made rather late after there is irreversible organ damage and they often require invasive procedures. Another priority of our research is to try and identify bio markers that faithfully predict the stage of the disease and its response to the therapy, and to develop new methods for non-invasive optical imaging of inflammatory mediators such as proteases, which could allow early diagnosis of disease prior to irreversible tissue damage.

Interviewer: You have a very distinguished international career. You’ve worked in the UK and also in the US but you’re looking to moving to Australia to take up your Australia Fellowship. What prompted the move?

Prof. Bunnett: Well I’m very attracted by moving to the University of Sydney. Sydney University has a pre-eminent reputation for research. I will have strong collaborators in the Schools of Medicine, Chemistry and Physics, which really will provide me with access to a breadth of expertise and facilities. The Medical School has a strong reputation in fields of inflammation and neuroscience. I will collaborate with members of the School of Chemistry who will bring expertise in biological and medicinal chemistry and facilitate in the identification of mediators of inflammation and anti inflammatory agents. And collaboration within physics will provide me with expertise in cellular and whole animal imaging. One of the very exciting things about the University of Sydney is that it’s at the start of an expansion in biomedical sciences. The first phase of this is now underway with the construction of the Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease and this is a 380 million dollar investment in research and teaching space. I think the really exciting aspect of this development is that it will bring together basic and clinical biomedical scientists, chemists, physicists, computational biologists. And this blend of expertise and the very close proximity of the centre to the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital I believe creates an ideal environment for translating some of my work into improved diagnosis and treatment of human disorders.

Interviewer: And you’re going to be bringing some of your international colleagues with you?

Prof. Bunnett: Yes I hope so. I have members of my group from the United States, England, Italy, Germany, New Zealand…I have collaborators in Japan…and it’s my wish that I can bring these talented people with me to Australia.

Interviewer: Thank you very much Professor Bunnett, I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to speak to you today and I wish you all the best with your research work.

Prof. Bunnett: Thank you very much Carolyn.

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