David Hunt wins Medical Research Foundation Emerging Leaders Prize
April 2018: Dr David Hunt is one of three winners of a prize that has been awarded to lupus researchers.
Today, the Medical Research Foundation awards its first Emerging Leaders Prize to three outstanding lupus researchers. The Emerging Leaders Prize aims to recognize and reward talented researchers who’ve already made a strong contribution to their field. The Foundation funds research in areas like lupus where investment is low, but clinical need is high. This year’s Prize was made possible thanks to a legacy gift from Dr Erina Herrick, whose own research explored lupus.
Lupus is a serious autoimmune condition - caused when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue. It is most common in young women but in rare cases can affect children.
Dr David Hunt, first prize winner, receives £100K. David works between the MRC IGMM and the Anne Rowling Regenerative Neurology Clinic, CCBS. His research looks at how lupus can affect the brain at a molecular level. He also runs a specialist clinic dedicated to tackling complex forms of brain inflammation, with an emphasis on lupus. His long-term aim is to develop effective therapies personalised to each patient. His lab has already made progress by showing that it may be possible to combine results of a super-sensitive blood-test with images from brain scans in order to follow how lupus-related brain disease develops. This information could be used to design clinical trials aimed at preventing brain damage.
Dr Hunt says: “My laboratory’s research is dedicated to addressing the unmet needs of people with inflammatory brain diseases - and lupus brain disease is our priority. My very first job in medicine involved looking after people with lupus, and this contact has inspired my research and clinical practice. I have been struck by the burden of lupus brain disease, and the relative lack of coordinated research effort in this area.
“Our ability to develop treatments to prevent or treat brain disease in lupus is hampered by two problems. Firstly we understand very little of the molecular pathways which drive brain disease. Secondly we don’t have good ways of measuring brain dysfunction in clinical trials. My group addresses both of these roadblocks, trying to decode the molecular pathways and develop practical biomarkers of brain disease.
“The Medical Research Foundation emerging leaders prize will transform my group’s ability to pursue this research. We will use the prize funds to purchase cutting-edge equipment which can detect single protein molecules. This will allow us to develop precise tests of the molecular pathways involved in lupus brain disease and help us measure how the brain is affected. The funds will also allow us to develop collaborations with groups in other countries working in this field, accelerating clinical translation and linking our research to the needs of the lupus community.”
Brain disease in lupus is very poorly understood. I’m delighted to have won the Emerging Leaders Prize as it’s a wonderful recognition of the work my lab, clinic and colleagues are doing to help understand and tackle this important problem.
The other award winners are Dr Tracy Briggs of the University of Manchester and Dr Edward Vital at the University of Leeds.