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Investigating neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) and countering their role in inflammation

A research team from the Hospital for Sick Children, including Cystic Fibrosis Canada-funded Dr. Nades Palaniyar, has been investigating the function of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs), and their role in chronic inflammatory diseases, such as cystic fibrosis (CF).  Neutrophils are a type of white blood cell that is present in large numbers in the bloodstream.  When a person has an injury of some kind, such as a cut or infection, signals in the body send large numbers of neutrophils to the site, where they fight the infection in a variety of ways.  One of the ways that neutrophils fight the infection is by casting net-like structures to trap and kill bacteria, which prevents bacteria from getting into the bloodstream.  However, along with attacking bacteria, NETs also target organs.  NETs become a problem in chronic inflammatory diseases like CF, because, in the words of Dr. Palaniyar, “if you have a chronic inflammatory disease like cystic fibrosis, bacteria regularly grow inside your airways.  Neutrophils move into the airways in large numbers like armies and try to trap and kill the colonizing bacteria by releasing NETs.  This NET attack causes collateral damage.  A huge amount of NETs build up in the lungs, clog the airways and eventually destroy the entire lung.”

Currently, the main treatment for chronic inflammation is corticosteroids; however, these drugs have limited effectiveness and can also be hard on the body over time.  Research on NETs could identify new ways to address inflammation.  By investigating drugs that can target NETs specifically, and prevent them from forming, or improve the bacterial killing efficiency of already formed NETs, Dr. Palaniyar’s work could improve treatments for people with inflammatory diseases, such as cystic fibrosis.

To access the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) in March 2015, click here.  To access an article on the study by Health Canal, a website that provides news about health and medical breakthroughs, click here.


Professor Nades Palaniyar, PhD., of University of Toronto conducts research on neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). As a Senior Scientist he directs an innate immunity research lab at the Hospital for Sick Children to understand the molecular mechanisms that regulate NET formation. With this new knowledge, he identifies drugs that can suppress NET formation without compromising key functions of neutrophils, or enhance the immune functions of NETs. His goal is to translate the new NET knowledge to pharmaceutical industry, and eventually to bring new drugs to clinics.