How does the body’s inflammatory response – used to fight infection and heal wounds – become an enemy that causes chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes and obesity? That was the focus of the College of Medicine’s International Symposium on Inflammation and Health October 15-17 that brought to Medical City experts from across the globe sharing ideas on better ways to detect and treat chronic inflammation.
The symposium featured 24 speakers and 11 poster presentations and included world-renowned scientists Dr. Peter Libby, a cardiologist and Mallinckrodt Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and knighted British physician-scientist Sir Salvador Moncada, M.D., whose research has been foundational in understanding inflammation and cell stress and in creating compounds that can be used to treat cardiovascular and rheumatic diseases.
At the end of the conference, the medical school presented Dr. Libby with a Lifetime Achievement Award, a ceramic heart crafted by Linda Parthasarathy, wife of Dr. Sampath Parthasarathy, a conference chair and UCF’s Associate Dean for Research.
Participants remarked on the diversity of the presenters, noting that as research discovers the links between inflammation and many chronic conditions, sharing such findings can result in new treatments for patients.
“I think it’s very important that we get together and expand our understanding of inflammation, not just to fight off acute infections like pneumococcal pneumonia, which we’ve known for generations, but also in the chronic diseases that are really a modern plague,” such as heart disease and diabetes,” said Dr. Libby. “It turns out that inflammation is a common pathway that leads to the decline in quality of life and function, even as we live longer.”
Dr. Dennis Klinman, senior investigator with the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute, who presented research on anti-inflammatory treatments for cancer, agreed. “This is a very diverse group, and it’s rare to pull people with such diverse interests together,” he said. “I’m learning things about diabetes that I, as an immunologist would never be exposed to. Inflammation is Critical to our survival, the problem is that we now live to be old people, and chronic inflammation has all sorts of negative consequences, and that’s what this conference is about.”
Dr. Nalini Santanam, a professor of pharmacology, physiology and toxicology at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine at Marshall University, presented her research on the role of inflammation in endometriosis, which affects up to 15 percent of women during their reproductive years. Endometriosis has links to infertility and an increased risk for cancer. Dr. Santanam is investigating the role of anti-oxidants – specifically Vitamins E and C – in treating the pain associated with the condition. Thanks to the conference, she said she learned new areas of research that might be applicable to her specific area of study.
New areas of research presented at the conference included better genetic understandings of why some people become sick with inflammatory diseases and others do not and new molecular imaging techniques that can actually show inflammation in the body. Attendees also heard presentations from Indian scientists and physicians on Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient approach to wellness based on a balance between the body, mind and spirit.
In presenting the College of Medicine’s Lifetime Achievement Award to Dr. Libby, Dr. Parthasarathy described the physician-scientist as a pioneer in inflammatory research, especially inflammation’s role in cardiac disease. Dr. Libby is now involved in a worldwide clinical trial of a drug used to treat a rare genetic disease in children that has shown promise in treating inflammation-induced cardiovascular disease in adults. That trial has 10,000 patients. “I’m at a stage in my career where I’ve been fortunate enough to receive recognitions,” Dr. Libby said after receiving the award. “But the best part of these visits is meeting the young people— because they’re the future.” “It’s their energy and their passion that really is catalytic. I get energized by working with the young people, their enthusiasm is like a drug for me.”
Dr. Parthasarathy said the inflammation conference is just the beginning and that he wants to organize more events where scientists can share ideas with each other – and with the College of Medicine’s young scientists. “I want us to be Mecca,” he said, “A place where people some to share their stories and also learn from us.”
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