Dr. Andrew Stadnyk

Dr. Andrew Stadnyk

Dr. Andrew Stadnyk

Inflammation, Infection & Immunity

Molecular switch:

In over 25 years of studying inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Dr. Andrew Stadnyk has shed light on many of the mechanisms that drive the cycle of tissue damage and inflammation in colitis and Crohn’s disease. In the past few years, he has focused intensively on the role of the complement system, a part of the innate (inborn) immune system that helps other parts of the immune system, such as antibodies and phagocytes (or “microbe-eating cells”), do their jobs more effectively. In the process, he came across an important “molecular switch.”

“I discovered that some of the protein molecules that make up the complement system can actually turn off the inflammatory response in immune cells that normally promote inflammation and drive IBD,” explains Dr. Stadnyk, a professor in the departments of Microbiology & Immunology and Pediatrics at Dalhousie Medical School and the IWK.

After proving that this molecular switch can successfully turn pro-inflammatory cells from healthy human donors into anti-inflammatory cells, Dr. Stadnyk teamed up with longtime clinical collaborator, Dr. Anthony Otley, a pediatric gastroenterologist and professor at Dalhousie Medical School, to test the molecular switch in IBD patients.

“We have been able to turn off the inflammatory cells in healthy volunteers, by ‘tickling’ certain receptors on the cell surfaces,” says Dr. Stadnyk. “In our work with pediatric IBD donors, however, our early findings show that the switch fails. Now our challenge is to understand why we cannot interrupt this cycle of inflammation that keeps their illness active, and find another way to flick the switch.”

New flow cytometry equipment being purchased with proceeds of Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation’s 2016-17 Molly Appeal will aid the researchers in their efforts to identify the cells and molecules that are vital to their task. Notes Dr. Stadnyk, “If we succeed in switching off the inflammation signals in these immune cells in IBD, we may also be opening the door to a potentially powerful new approach to multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis as well.”

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