Holy Grail: Neutrophils can be anti-inflammatory too


16 Jun 2016

Francesca Tang



In our latest holy grail we caught up with Francesca Tang from the Woolcock Medical Research institute about the day she discovered neutrophils in asthma could also be anti-inflammatory.

Can you describe your research in 25 words?

I am identifying the role of neutrophils in virus-induced exacerbations and finding out what are they doing during common cold infections.

What was the finding that most excites you and why?

I had my whole PhD thinking I would find out mechanisms in neutrophils from asthmatics that led them to be more inflammatory than those from people who didn’t have asthma.

When we found out neutrophils could also be anti-inflammatory I thought I had ruined months of experiments! Turn out it wasn’t a mistake and I was discovering something completely new. It was a really exciting process attempting to identify the mechanism by slowly piecing together the puzzle with each new experiment.

How could your findings impact clinical practice?

This work shows that neutrophils can also be good. For asthmatics, trying to reduce the neutrophils in the airways may not be the best way to treat people. We think neutrophils may be helping dampen the inflammatory response and if we can figure out exactly how they are doing it and exploit that, then it could mean a whole new avenue of therapeutic options.

What’s been your biggest challenge?

As I am still completing my PhD, time has been the biggest challenge. I only started working on this area of anti-inflammatory neutrophils in the last 1 to 1 1/2 years of my PhD. Squeezing in so many experiments in such a short time frame whilst getting the opportunity to present my findings at many conferences was particularly difficult to balance the two.

What are your plans for taking this research further?

I’m hoping to characterise the anti-inflammatory mechanism further and then the next step is to confirm if it is dysregulated in asthma or other inflammatory diseases. Hopefully after that we can look to identify new pharmacotherapies that can enhance the neutrophil’s anti-inflammatory potential.

Francesca’s work has been recently published in Thorax. You can access the full paper here. 

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