IHMRI researchers are investigating the role of this protein in inflammatory diseases

P2X7 is a protein present on the surface of white blood cells. Researchers at the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute suggest that its purpose in health and disease can be a double-edged sword.

Professor Ronald Sluyter and Dr Debbie Watson are researching the role of this protein and how it can both promote immunity or lead to inflammation.

Professor Sluyter says they are still trying to understand how P2X7 behaves differently across diseases.

“The activation of P2X7 is generally beneficial in fighting various infections and cancer. In the case of inflammatory diseases like sepsis, graft versus host disease, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, it can have the opposite effect,” he said.

“We are trying to better understand the potential benefits of blocking this protein to reduce inflammation in patients with these diseases, which may include COVID-19.”

Infections like pneumonia and COVID-19 release inflammatory mediators, known as a Cytokine Storm. An infiltration of white blood cells can disrupt normal lung function leading to severe illness and death, according to Professor Sluyter.

“The over activation of P2X7 in these cases heightens the inflammatory response by the body rather than protect it. Our research suggests that by blocking this protein we can potentially control the inflammation and repair the immune response.”

Drug testing is currently being undertaken in partnership with IHMRI’s Electrophysiology Facility for Cell Phenotyping and Drug Discovery to find a potential new blocker of P2X7.

“If we can better understand effective drug treatments to block P2X7 it will potentially lead to better outcomes for people with various diseases including those infected with viruses like COVID-19,” added Professor Sluyter.


Media contact

Louise Negline, Communications Coordinator

m: 0417 044 867

e: louisenegline@ihmri.org.au

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