The Molly Appeal: Giving to the medical research community
Supporting immunity, inflammation and infectious disease research
Nikki Comeau - October 16, 2012
More than 30 years ago, Molly Moore gave a small donation of five dollars to the Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation (DMRF).
Moore thought that if each person could donate what they could reasonably afford, the accumulative effect could greatly impact the medical research community. That sentiment kick-started DMRF’s annual fundraising campaign, named after Moore herself.
The Molly Appeal for Medical Research focuses on a different area of research every year. This year’s focus is on immunity, inflammation and infectious diseases research.
“We need new strategies for combating infectious diseases, as well as increasingly common allergic and inflammatory autoimmune diseases,” says Dr. Jean Marshall, head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Dalhousie Medical School.
Proceeds from this year’s campaign will go towards the purchase of a high-speed flow cytometer—a tool that will help many researchers at Dal working in the fields of immunity, inflammation and infectious diseases.
Protecting people from food and waterborne bacteria
One of those researchers is Dr. Nikhil Thomas, a microbiologist and infectious diseases researcher.
Health concerns around E. coli infections are still fresh in the minds of Canadians after the largest ever food recall in the country’s history.
The recall reminded Canadians about the importance of proper food preparation — and the scary consequences of ingesting contaminated food. But Dr. Thomas and his team were studying how the human body responds to contaminated food long before the news of the beef recall hit the airwaves.
“It’s a significant public health issue when bacteria contaminate our food or water supplies, and it’s also a huge economic issue,” says Dr. Thomas.
That’s why Dr. Thomas and his team are looking at the effects that two types of dangerous bacteria have on humans: E. coli and Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
“Both of these bacteria have a complex needle-like structure on their cell surface that they use to literally pierce the intestinal wall within our bodies during infection,” says Dr. Thomas. “From there, they inject a plethora of toxins that destroy cells and shut down the local immune response, creating tissue damage and disease.”
Both bacteria can contaminate popular foods consumed in many areas of the world, like beef and shellfish. By studying the body’s response to these types of bacteria, Dr. Thomas and his team hope to learn how to better arm the body against infection.
“The flow cytometer is the workhorse of immunology research,” explains Dr. Thomas. The machine will enable his team to analyze up to 20,000 cells per second, making its work much more efficient.
Helping those who struggle with immune deficiency diseases
Another researcher that will be supported by this year’s Molly Appeal is Dr. Thomas Issekutz, head of the Division of Immunology in Dal’s Department of Pediatrics and pediatric immunologist at the IWK Health Centre.
Dr. Issekutz’s team studies the immune system and diseases that impact its effectiveness in protecting the body.
“Common variable immune deficiency (CVID) is one of the most common immune deficiency diseases affecting both children and adults, but it’s one of the least understood,” says Dr. Issekutz (pictured, left).
He explains why CVID is problematic: people affected by it are unable to produce antibodies they need to fight off infections. Some people with CVID face an added challenge: their immune systems attack their own tissues.
“We want to learn which immune cells are involved, and in what ways, so we can develop strategies to unblock antibody production while blocking autoimmune attacks,” says Dr. Issekutz.
“We’re grateful that the 2012 Molly Appeal is raising money for this vital equipment. It will help us get to the bottom of many mysteries that much faster,” says Dr. Issekutz.
To learn more about the Molly Appeal and the DMRF, please visit www.dmrf.ca.