Blood Cells

A breakthrough in the understanding of inflammatory diseases by scientists at the University of East Anglia could offer new treatments for patients. Carried in The Journal of Cell Science, the study reveals the constant presence of potent inflammatory molecules around the cells responsible for diseases like thickening of the arteries and rheumatoid arthritis.

A look at the numbers affected by inflammatory diseases reveals that heart conditions arising from atherosclerosis take around 17 million lives across the globe each year. Rheumatoid arthritis is said to kill approximately 4,00,000 people in the UK on an annual basis. According to the UEA team, white blood cells called monocytes have a huge part to play when it comes to guarding our bodies against infection.

“These unexpected findings shed light on the very early stages in the development of inflammatory diseases such as atherosclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis,” explained lead author, Dr Samuel Fountain of UEA’s School of Biological Sciences and BBSRC David Phillips Fellow. “We found that lysosomes are actually highly dynamic and play a key role in the way inflammatory cells function. This is an exciting development that we hope will lead to the discovery of new targets for inflammatory drugs in around five years and potential new treatments beyond that.”

Monocytes have also been found to invade tissue and kick off the early phases of common inflammatory diseases. The new research detected that these cells were constantly encircled by a cloud of potent inflammatory molecules dubbed adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Sub-cellular compartments within blood cells called lysosomes are claimed to propel ATP molecules through cell walls. So controlling the release of ATP by lysosomes in monocytes and other white blood cells should provide the required answers.

This understanding about the onset of inflammatory diseases is set to be furthered by Dr. Fountain who’s been given a £0.9m grant to research the manner in which cells employ ATP as a signaling molecule.