Institute of Genetics and Cancer

Dr David Hunt awarded Emerging Leader Prize

Congratulations to Dr David Hunt, who is based between the MRC Institute of Genetics and Molecular Medicine and the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences at the University of Edinburgh, for winning the Medical Research Foundation’s first Emerging Leaders Prize: April 2018

Dr David Hunt
Dr David Hunt

The annual prize aims to recognise and reward talented researchers who’ve already made a strong contribution to their field and this year three lupus researchers share the prize.

Lupus is a serious autoimmune condition caused when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissue and the winners’ research considers lupus from three perspectives: it’s impact on the brain, the role of genetics and the autoimmune response. 

Brain disease is a serious and common problem in lupus, but it’s molecular basis is still an unknown. This means there are no specific therapies available to stop the brain being damaged by lupus. Dr Hunt’s research is dedicated to what he describes as the neglected field of lupus brain disease. 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.

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 MRF 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.

Dr David Hunt

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