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Investment in Immunology: The Key for Future Success

The University of Surrey

Today, we welcome a guest blog from Professor David Blackbourn, Head of the School of Biosciences and Medicine at the University of Surrey. The University of Surrey has recently announced its intention to set up a new ‘Section of Immunology’. Here, Professor Blackbourn discusses why Surrey has decided to put this added investment into the discipline of immunology and how they hope it will benefit the university overall.

The University of Surrey has world-class profile, with a strong record in cutting-edge research and teaching excellence. We’re proud to be The Times Good University Guide 2016 ‘University of The Year’ and one of the ‘Top 10’ universities in three major national league tables in 2015–16. In the latest UK research excellence framework (REF 2014), we were rated 8 out of 94 UK institutions for biosciences, health and veterinary research.

Forwarding our strategic aims

As a result of our new strategic plan and future vision to be a leading national and international university, the School of Biosciences and Medicine in the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences is now recruiting exceptional individuals to continue to add to the successes that the School, Faculty and University have already achieved. The School’s mission is to improve human and animal health through top 10 teaching and world-leading discovery and translational research in biosciences and medicine, which is very much aligned to the Faculty’s ‘One Health’ agenda, to integrate advancements in human and veterinary medicine and science. The School’s vision is that our work will provide the maximum benefit to global society through the optimisation of human and animal health in the face of challenges such as an ageing population, disease burden, food security and climate change.

The School is led by myself and comprises four departments: the Departments of Biochemical Sciences, Microbial Sciences, Nutritional Sciences and the new Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine. Each of these departments is organised into Sections that capture our critical mass in specific areas of research strength.

We are currently appointing to build on our research strengths that include bacteriology, cardiovascular biology, chronobiology, nutrition, oncology, sleep, systems biology and virology. We will also grow our current capacity in immunology, ageing research and neurocognitive disorders.

The importance of immunology

The immune system sustains health and yet can exacerbate disease. Its study is therefore essential to our ‘One Health’ agenda and underpins many of our research strengths listed above.

Aspects of immunity contribute to chronic diseases, infectious diseases, vaccinology and chronic inflammation. As lifespan increases, loss of plasticity in this system (as in others such as the brain, gastrointestinal tract etc.) contributes to reduced function and poorer health. Indeed, immune system dysfunction in the form of chronic inflammation underpins many age-associated diseases including dementia, osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease. Likewise, vaccine development underpins improved health as the lifespan of our population increases and contributes to livestock health in the context of sustainable food production. Here, synthetic biology can and should contribute to ‘One Health’.

Our view is that growing immunology as a discipline at Surrey will add critical mass and capacity to our existing strengths of infectious disease research, represented by our Sections of Virology and Bacteriology; Systems Biology; Sleep; Nutritional Sciences; Oncology. Naturally, there is also considerable opportunity to synergise with our new School of Veterinary Medicine. In addition, investing in immunology complements our new Neurocognitive Disorders and Ageing Research themes. Consequently, we see developing our immunology research as representing an opportunity to build on existing strengths and also to grow new research directions and capacity.

We consider immunology as an essential component of our mission, which we need to develop. Its seat as a ‘Section of Immunology’ within the Department of Biochemical Sciences is entirely appropriate. To staff this, we have created four new posts, one of which has already been filled, to build this area. The remaining three are two lectureships and a professorship; the latter representing a leadership opportunity as the incumbent will head the new Section. By putting this investment in, our hope is that immunology will play a central role in Surrey’s research strategy and success for many years to come.

Professor David Blackbourn, Head of the School of Biosciences & Medicine, University of Surrey

You find out more information on the vacancies available on the University of Surrey website.

Image: © University of Surrey