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University of Oxford

Antibodies normally protect us against bugs such as flu. However, if they accidentally recognise our body’s proteins as bugs, they are called autoantibodies, and lead to autoimmune disorders. Autoimmune encephalitis is a condition when the autoantibodies react with the brain. Patients present with fits and memory problems. Most are unable to return to work and have long-term cognitive impairment. To improve outcomes for these patients, we will identify the immune cells most likely to produce the autoantibodies, with the aim of targeted therapeutic options. Traditional models suggest that these immune cells, called plasma cells, can reside within the bone marrow for many years. So, we aim to directly understand whether these could contribute to the autoantibody production by testing the bone marrow plasma cells from patients for autoantibody production. Also, we will characterise the proteins they express which are known drug targets. Knowing how many and which type of these plasma cells make the bulk of the autoantibody would potentially allow more targeted immunotherapies and improved clinical outcomes.