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U.Va. creates brain immunology center

Institution brings together various disciplines, researches neurological diseases

The University Medical School is creating a new center for Brain Immunology and Glia that will bring together scientists from across the University to research and understand brain and nervous system-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

Researchers at the center will study the interaction between the nervous system and the immune system — neuroimmunology. Failure or deterioration of connections between the two systems causes diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis.

Neuroimmunology is an up-and-coming field, and one that could potentially have a significant impact on the ways doctors understand and treat patients with degenerative diseases, center Director Jonathan Kipnis said in a University Health System press release.

“It’s very difficult to manipulate the brain directly, yet we can manipulate the immune system in many ways,” Kipnis said. “People are now looking more and more at targeting the immune system to defend a diseased brain.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 5 million Americans suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, and nearly half of Americans older than 85 risk developing it.

The funding for this new project comes from a variety of University sources, as well as the National Institute of Health, a U.S. medical research center.

Alongside the Department of Neuroscience, faculty members from five different departments will be working in the center, along with two new — as yet undecided — faculty members.

Although there are some researchers around the world currently addressing these issues, the University’s center is one of the only institutions to bring together different scientific disciplines under one roof.

“I think this type of center has a unique opportunity to have breakthroughs.… There aren’t a lot of centers around the world that are working on this,” said Kevin Lee, Department of Neuroscience chair.