Inflammatory disease – a pain in the gut!

Professor Nick Smith has joined James Cook University (JCU) and the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance (QTHA) after 14 years at the University of Technology, Sydney. Nick says, of his move to Tropical Queensland, "It is a happy coincidence of timing and opportunity: JCU is rapidly expanding its research effort and I had been thinking of a change of direction in my own research - moving to Cairns gave me the ideal opportunity, and the support I needed to make that a reality."

 

Nick is trying to understand what causes diarrhoea and how it can lead to 2 million deaths a year, mostly children and mostly in the tropics. "Diarrhoea kills more children than malaria, measles and AIDS combined - that's startling," says Nick. Diarrhoea is usually a symptom of gastrointestinal infection caused by a variety of bacteria, viruses or parasites - more specifically, the inflammatory response to these microorganisms can destroy the structure of the intestine.

 

"We've got some really nice leads on how and why the immune system over-reacts in the intestines of some individuals, causing inflammation," says Nick. Inflammation is designed to help control infection but it can also damage host cells, tissues and organs if isn't controlled properly. "The other exciting thing about joining QTHA is the chance to link with researchers like Professor Alex Loukas and Dr Jason Mulvenna, who are exploring anti-inflammatory molecules made by parasitic worms," says Nick. "So, ironically, molecules from parasitic worms may turn out to be a novel way to treat inflammation in the intestine and help reduce the impact of diarrhoea caused by other types of infectious organisms."

 

Professor Smith is joining the Queensland Tropical Health Alliance (QTHA) at James Cook University in Cairns at an exciting stage in its development, with research facilities being built across all partner sites - JCU, Queensland Institute of Medical Research, Griffith University and Queensland University of Technology.

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