Center for Neuro-dysfunction and Inflammation focuses on expanding field of neuroimmunology

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Oct. 18, 2018


Holly Korschun

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Malú Tansey


Emory is forming a new center for the study of brain inflammation, a critical mechanism in several chronic diseases of the nervous system and neurodegenerative diseases.

Inflammation is an essential part of the body’s response to infection or injury. In certain situations, immune cells and substances they release can enter the nervous system and cause lasting cell and tissue damage, whether subtle or overt. Evidence is piling up that chronic brain inflammation drives the progression of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, as well as contributing to autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis, and the consequences of viral infections like HIV and Zika.

The director of the Center for Neurodysfunction and Inflammation (CNI) will be Malú G. Tansey, PhD, professor of physiology at Emory University School of Medicine.

“It’s become clear that healthy brain function is the result of communication between the immune system and the nervous system, and the field of neuroimmunology is expanding beyond autoimmune diseases,” Tansey says. “Neurological disorders can arise from or be exacerbated by dysfunction and chronic inflammation coming from outside the brain. The good news is that it may be possible to treat, delay or perhaps prevent some of these neurological disorders by harnessing the power of the immune system.”

Tansey is senior director of graduate studies for Emory’s Neuroscience graduate program, former member of the Immunology and Molecular Pathogenesis (IMP) graduate program executive committee, and on the Laney Graduate School Executive Council. She is also director of the Research Education Component of Emory’s Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and co-director of Emory’s Initiative for Maximizing Student Development (IMSD), an NIH-funded training grant aimed at enhancing recruitment and retention of diverse graduate and undergraduate students.

The center will stoke collaborations among basic, translational and clinical investigators with complementary expertise and promote access to shared resources, such as equipment and banks of tissue samples. The CNI will work alongside existing centers at Emory including the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease, the NIH-funded Udall Center for Excellence in Parkinson’s Research, and the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center to further enhance the scientific environment for high-impact brain research. Center members also plan to collaborate with colleagues at other research universities.

Recent new Emory faculty slated to join the CNI include Steven Sloan, PhD, in Human Genetics, Jie Jiang, PhD, in Cell Biology, and Timothy Sampson, PhD, in Physiology. Investigators from several departments – Pharmacology, Physiology, Neurology, Psychiatry, Human Genetics, Pathology, Microbiology & Immunology – have been involved in forming the Center. Membership will be open to faculty members involved or interested in neuro-immune and inflammation research.

The CNI will be part of the Emory Brain Health Center and will partner with the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease, led by Allan Levey, MD, PhD. Levey is the Goizueta Endowed Chair for Alzheimer’s Disease Research and the Betty Gage Holland Chair, and director of the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center.

“Growing evidence implicates neuroinflammation as a key mediator of many brain diseases,” says Levey. “I am excited to see Dr. Tansey establish this new Center to enhance, coordinate and catalyze research on neuroinflammation and its translation into new therapeutic approaches for neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, depression, stroke, and other major nervous system diseases. Emory has growing strengths in this important area of research, bolstered by a foundation of world-class investigators in both neuroscience and immunology. This is the right time and right place to expand neuroinflammation research to bring forth new treatments, and we are delighted to see Dr. Tansey lead the effort.” 

In May 2018, The Goizueta Foundation made a $25 million grant to the Goizueta Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center, dedicated to the development of a clinical trials unit and a neuroinflammation discovery unit that is aligned with the new Center.