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The IMune Systems ECology center: ready to start in 2017
IMmune Systems ECology center: network solutions for health and environment
The IMune Systems ECology center: ready to start in 2017
Ellen van Donk
Marieke van Ham
Hans V. Westerhoff
IMSEC will operate from a home-base in the brand new O|2 building in the South of Amsterdam overlooking the 'New Lake' (Nieuwe Meer), the VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam's business center, and the airport. It integrates excellent researchers from the two Amsterdam Universities, the Universities of Leiden, Utrecht and Wageningen, as well as from the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Sanquin, the blood transfusion research center. IMSEC will be open; it will constitute a hub through which worldwide research groups in ecology, immunology and systems biology will be empowered by an entirely new world of concepts. models and experiments. It will also drive new start up companies and connect to pharmaceutical and nutrition industry.
It will be driven by both scientists and representatives of the public, who will help determine to which societal needs IMSEC funding will flow.
At present IMSEC is in its preparatory phase. It is in need of funding, for which it is applying with various organizations.
The dynamic networking of immune cells determines health in both the positive and the negative sense: it helps neutralize microbial pathogens, but it may also engage in allergic reactions and chronic inflammation. The same networks may inhibit or enhance cancer as well as inflammation associated with obesity and diabetes. IMSEC recognizes that part of the immune networks' functioning emerges from the networking between its different cell types, much as in ecology.
Ecological systems such as lakes and the contents of our intestines, appear to function better when they are home to a greater variety of species: their stable functioning is enhanced by their diversity. Perhaps the same principle also reigns in the immune system, where viruses like AIDS compromise the variety of immune cells. When babies are exposed to less dust, they may develop a smaller reportoire of immune cells and this might reduce their robstness vis-a-vis infections at later age, or make them liable to allergic reactions. And, it is no wonder that we extrap[olate to human society: also society thrives on human diversity.
The dynamic networking of organisms in an ecological system such as a waste dump, the river Rhine, your belly, or the planet Earth determines much of its functioning. That functioning can be good and pleasant, or bad and threatening. Which of the two it is, also depends on organisms or agents that behave somewhat similarly to the cells in the immune system in your body. They include quasi-immune cells that are activated when they recogize a danger and then secrete substances that incapacitate that danger. Or, they activate other organisms to combat the invaders. Like in our immune system, ecosystems may maintain some sort of memory cells. Understanding the immune issues of ecosystems may well help us manage them better. After all, why should we not learn from the great networking produced by Biology in 4 billion years of evolution and now made understandable by the systems biology developed since the year 2000? Such learning may help us avert the many ecological disasters that are approaching, including groundwater pollution, global warming, and new infectious diseases. It may help us 'cure' a lake that is ill, by immunization, or prevent its disease by vaccination.
IMmune Systems ECology Center; the center for immune-ecology network solutions
Human wellbeing depends on their individual health and the ecological ‘health/wellness’ of their environment. Both components are under strong pressure in our societies where individuals get older and numbers of people increase. Immune-mediated inflammatory diseases result from imbalances in cellular networks, whereby dysregulation occurs in time and space. Many ecological disasters result from similar imbalances of population dynamics. New intrusions cannot be compensated for due to networks being activated resulting in an explosive outcome. The realization that human well-being depends on two similar networks that have never been connected scientifically, defines an entirely new cross-disciplinary field integrating immunology with ecology. We aim to establish the world’s leading centre for this new field of Immune Systems Ecology in the Netherlands.
The IMSEC (the IMmune Systems ECology) center aims to identify critical networks that determine health (balance) versus disease (imbalance) of living systems. We will integrate ecologists/population biologists with immunologists/cell biologists and with systems biologists, empowering progression from single components to network approaches by computational modelling. IMSEC will draw upon parallels between ecosystems at the organismal level (a lake) and immune systems at the cell-type level (anti-microbial barrier tissue in the small intestine). Previously unappreciated common principles that determine ecological and immunological balance will be defined and constitute the focal point of our IMSEC research. Experimental research based on these commonalities will be fed in to mathematical modeling approaches. This will spiral towards identification of new network motives, which will lead to the much needed, innovative therapeutic approaches to both ecological and immunological diseases.
IMSEC will thus establish new individualized interventions that restore system balance through the strategic and therapeutic activation of homeostatic networks. This will empower personalized medicine as well as precision management of the environment. IMSEC will interact with policy makers, medical practitioners, and the general public to enhance actively societal resilience to oncoming medical and ecological disasters.