Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that kills an approximate 7,000 people in Canada every year. The standard treatment is antimicrobials, but critical care physician and scientist Dr. Bryan Yipp, MD, with the Cumming School of Medicine’s (CSM) Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, is investigating a unique approach to treating bacterial pneumonia by targeting medications aimed at the nervous system.
“It’s a fundamentally different way to think about treating an infection,” says Yipp, an assistant professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine. “It may sound like a very unconventional thing to do, treating a lung infection by targeting the nervous system, but our data is showing that it may be a very powerful thing to do.”
Interested in how the nervous system and inflammatory system work together, Yipp assembled a small team of researchers to combine his expertise in infectious disease and host response with experts in neurobiology and neuroinflammation.
“These are two very different streams of science,” says Yipp. “This collaboration is resulting in complementary and unique insights into how the body responds to disease.”
Yipp and Dr. Christophe Altier, PhD, member of the CSM’s Snyder Institute for Chronic Diseases, the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute are using animal models to see what is occurring at a molecular level between the nervous system and the immune system.
“Our first hypothesis was that the nervous system would assist with the body’s immune response,” says Altier, associate professor with the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. “We discovered that the nervous system can detect bacteria in the lungs. We expected it would help with the immune response, but our results show just the opposite is occurring. The nervous system’s response seems to worsen the infection.”
The team contributed their findings to a study led out of Harvard University that was published earlier this year in Nature Medicine. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) recently awarded Yipp a grant to expand his research as part of the Spring 2018 Project Grant Competition.
“This award will help us understand how the nerves are altering the immune response in bacterial pneumonia,” says Yipp. “Ultimately, that understanding can lead back to patient care. I’ve always wondered, ‘Why are some patients’ lungs more damaged than others?’ The nervous system may be playing a role in that.”
Yipp’s is one of 14 research projects at the University of Calgary receiving support from the CIHR’s Spring 2018 Project Grant Competition.
There were two recipients from the University of Calgary from the previous year whose research studies will be supported through the multi-year grants. With the aid of the CIHR grants, researchers are one step closer to discovery.