How can we cure disease?

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A Grand Challenges audience is not easily deterred. Despite freezing conditions and the threat of snow, the Salvin room was full and chairs closely packed for Professor Daniel Davis’ lecture last Wednesday evening in Keele Hall.

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Dan Davis’ work is focused on understanding how our immune systems work and how it is affected by stress, sleep, age and our state of mind. Within the last few years research has resulted in major advances in our understanding of the immune system. This new knowledge is contributing to radical new approaches in harnessing the body’s natural defences to create breakthrough drugs and so-called immunotherapies which can help us to treat cancer, diabetes, arthritis and many age-related diseases.

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A great raconteur, Daniel drew us in with an engaging story of the way these developments in understanding have come about; highlighting the serendipity in bringing people and their work together and the curiosity and passion of individuals which has sparked leaps in imagination and understanding and powered a revolution in our thinking about the way the immune system works. Embedded in this narrative is a compelling story of how science works; underscoring its interdisciplinarity and that science is a community adventure where advances are made by bringing together understandings from people across the world working in very different ways. Here different developments and contributions from scientists working on mice, fruit flies, humans and genes have been brought together and have led to exciting breakthroughs.

Daniel’s passion for science and his work in this field was threaded through the talk; from his early inspirations, Richard Feynman on the beauty of a flower and how science adds to our appreciation and understanding of this, to the stuff that drives him to his work in the lab every day.

Daniel’s work has pioneered the use of many imaging techniques to help visualize key molecular components of an immune response. This has helped establish new ideas about how immune cells communicate with each other and new insights into these mechanisms have led to the development of new treatments for a range of diseases - or as Daniel calls it a “beautiful cure” - more powerful he suggests than anything in the pharmaceutical toolkit.

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Following a PhD in Physics in Glasgow, Daniel began studying the immune system at Harvard University with Jack Strominger, A period as the Head of the Immunology Section at Imperial College London followed and he is currently Professor of Immunology at Manchester University and Director of Research in the Manchester Collaborative Centre for Inflammation Research. Daniel has published extensively in the field and he is the author of The Compatibility Gene (2014) and his second book, published in 2018 is The Beautiful Cure.

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