Dr. Henry McSorley has joined the School this month as a member of the Division on Cell Signalling and Immunology. He will be joint deputy head of division alongside Hari Hundal.
His research focuses on identifying the molecules and molecular pathways by which parasitic worms modulate the host immune system, and developing these findings towards new treatments for human immune-mediated diseases such as asthma. This research is underpinned by the hygiene hypothesis, which posits that as we have eradicated parasitic infections, there has been a rise in the prevalence of diseases mediated by overactive immune responses, such as autoimmunity, inflammation, and allergy. As parasites have co-evolved with humans, they have developed sophisticated techniques to suppress the immune system of their host, allowing their survival. In turn, the host immune system’s threshold of activation has evolved to be set to a level which is optimal in the presence of this immunosuppression, resulting in an immune system which is hyperactive in the absence of parasitic infection. After the development of modern sanitation, these infections are rare or absent, leading to an increased prevalence of various immune-mediated diseases such as asthma.
During each step of his research career, the projects Henry has conducted research in has built his experience and knowledge of this field.
Henry undertook his undergrad and postgraduate studies in Scotland. He completed his immunology degree at Glasgow and his PhD in the lab of Rick Maizels in Edinburgh. It was during his time in Edinburgh that he started to work on how a parasite can modulate the immune system, using animal models of parasite infection. Upon completion of his PhD, Henry moved to Alex Loukas’s lab in Brisbane and Cairns, Queensland, Australia. During this postdoc, Henry worked on a clinical trial where people with coeliac disease were infected with hookworms as a treatment for gluten-induced inflammation. In 2010, Henry returned to the UK and re-joined Rick Maizels lab to research how parasitic products could treat asthma and potentially develop drugs from that knowledge. In 2012, he was awarded an Asthma UK Postdoctoral Fellowship. Two years later he was awarded a Chancellor’s Fellowship from Edinburgh University to allow him to set up his own lab within the Centre for Inflammation Research.
Henry’s recent research has focussed on the parasite-derived proteins that block certain asthma-inducing cytokines. The IL-33 pathway is crucially important in asthma and parasitic worm infections so has been of particular interest, leading to the discovery of HpARI, a IL-33 antagonist protein identified from parasite secretions. The structure-function relationships between the immune modulatory proteins secreted by parasites and their targets in the hosts immune system are now being studied.
Henry’s lab uses the following techniques to answer those questions: mouse models, protein engineering, protein-protein interaction studies and cellular immunology. Currently, Henry has a PhD student in his team but two postdoctoral researchers and a technician will be joining in the coming months.