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The goal of Dr. Stella's research is to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying immune surveillance in the brain and the basic biology of microglial cell and astrocyte function, which could provide novel therapeutic avenues to treat multiple sclerosis and brain tumors. He and his colleagues study the molecular mechanisms that control the amplitude of neuroinflammatory responses, which differ between neuropathologies. They are particularly interested in determining the signaling molecules produced by microglia and astrocytes that lead to either exacerbated or inhibited neuroinflammatory responses. Research suggests that cannabinoids—molecules with a chemical structure similar to the marijuana component THC—affect neuroinflammation. The Stella lab's working hypothesis is that uncontrolled neuroinflammatory responses are associated with or due to malfunction of the cannabinoid signaling system. They are investigating whether cannabinoids affect the interactions among neurons, astrocytes, and microglia that occur during uncontrolled neuroinflammatory responses.
Stella’s group is currently testing whether agents acting through cannabinoid CB2 receptors can boost the brain’s immune system against brain tumors and/or temper the autoimmune response associated with multiple sclerosis. These pathologies induce two extremely different brain immune responses—tumors inhibit the brain’s immune system whereas multiple sclerosis exacerbates it—allowing for thorough testing of a novel therapeutic approach. Stella’s goal is to identify cannabinoid agents that will provide treatment of diverse neuropathologies, while being devoid of psychotropic and abuse properties.
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