Brain Burn

New center will study brain inflammation

A simulated brain on fire.

Emory is forming a new center for the study of brain inflammation, a critical mechanism in several chronic diseases of the nervous system and neurodegenerative diseases.

Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s response to infection or injury. In certain situations, immune cells and substances they release can enter the nervous system and cause lasting cell and tissue damage, whether subtle or overt. Evidence is piling up that chronic brain inflammation drives the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as contributing to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and the consequences of viral infections like HIV and Zika.

The director of the Center for Neurodysfunction and Inflammation (CNI) will be Malú G. Tansey, professor of physiology at the School of Medicine.

“It’s become clear that healthy brain function is the result of communication between the immune system and the nervous system, and the field of neuroimmunology is expanding beyond autoimmune diseases,” Tansey says. “Neurological disorders can arise from or be exacerbated by dysfunction and chronic inflammation coming from outside the brain. The good news is that it may be possible to treat, delay, or perhaps prevent some of these neurological disorders by harnessing the power of the immune system.”

The center will stoke collaborations among basic, translational, and clinical investigators with complementary expertise and promote access to shared resources, such as equipment and banks of tissue samples. The CNI will work alongside existing centers at Emory including the NIH-funded Udall Center for Excellence in Parkinson’s Research and the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to further enhance the scientific environment for high-impact brain research.

The CNI will be part of the Emory Brain Health Center and will partner with the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease, led by Allan Levey, Goizueta Endowed Chair for Alzheimer’s Disease Research, Betty Gage Holland Chair, and director of the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“Growing evidence implicates neuroinflammation as a key mediator of many brain diseases,” says Levey. “Emory has growing strengths in this important area of research.”

Last spring, the Goizueta Foundation made a $25 million grant to the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to support efforts aligned with the new center. 

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