Prof David Hunt

A profile picture of Professor David Hunt

Prof David Hunt

Head of Neuroinflammatory Medicine
Chair of Neuroinflammation Medicine; Wellcome Senior Clinical Fellow
Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences, University of Edinburgh

Professor David Hunt is a Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellow and Consultant Neurologist who leads clinics and research in the field of brain inflammation and multiple sclerosis. He graduated from Cambridge University with first class honours in medicine and neuroscience, and subsequently undertook medical and neurology training in London and Switzerland.  

As Head of Neuroinflammatory Medicine, David leads NHS multiple sclerosis and neuroinflammation services in Edinburgh and directs related research at the Anne Rowling Clinic. He has developed the NHS MS clinical service which links state-of-the-art clinical care with clinical trials and pioneering new precision medicine approaches, supported by the Chief Scientist Office of Scottish Government. David has developed specialised clinics for people affected by rare neuroinflammatory disorders and has overseen the introduction of new immunotherapies, including cellular and and genetic therapies into routine clinical practice.  

David is a group leader within the MRC-funded UKDRI. His multidisciplinary laboratory research team is focussed on identifying and switching off the molecular pathways which drive brain inflammation.  His research focuses on three main programmes: 

1. The role of innate immunity in neurological disease

Most cells in the body can sense viruses and produce antiviral molecules called type I interferons. This is a critical defence against severe viral infection but this pathway can sometimes activate in the absence of virus. This can trigger and drive neuroinflammatory disease in adults and children, sometimes resulting in serious brain damage.

David’s laboratory studies how activation of the type I interferon system can cause neurological damage in autoimmune diseases. His group showed how type I interferon proteins can cause specific patterns of organ disease in humans, in particular damage to the dense network of small blood vessels which keep the brain and body healthy (NEJM 2014 PMID: 24670186: , Blood 2016 PMID: 27663672). His group also identified a link between type I interferon proteins and the generation of neurotoxic antibodies targeted against the glial water channel Aquaporin-4 (Lancet Neurology 2020 PMID).

2. Precision medicine in neuroimmunological disease

As more therapies become available to treat neuroinflammatory disease, it is important to make sure that the right treatment is used in the right patient at the right time – an approach referred to as “precision medicine”. David’s research team has shown how new laboratory techniques such as single molecule ELISA, cell-free DNA, and proteomic analyses can be used to help understand disease states and successfully guide treatment.

He has worked closely with collaborators at the Institut Pasteur in Paris to show how ultrasensitive techniques can be used to quantify and define the role of interferon-alpha in immunological and infectious disease (Journal Exp Med 2017 PMID: 28420733, Science Immunology 2021 PMID: 33692097).

David is the Chief Investigator for a programme called Precision-MS, which aims to help patients understand their multiple sclerosis with unprecedented accuracy, and works with neuroimaging teams to show how combining imaging and blood-based analyses can provide clinically relevant insights into brain scans for people with MS (Brain Comms 2021 PMID: 34877533).

3. Safe and effective medicines

David’s group has made important contributions and insights into drug safety, in particular safety of biological immunotherapies. This has included identification of novel side effects of recombinant cytokines, and demonstrating how risks with biologic agents can modulate over time (BMJ 2017 PMID: 28450275). He has been involved in major drug safety reviews including work to identify and reduce risks of very rare neurological conditions associated with vaccination (Nature Medicine 2021 PMID: 34697502). David is a Commissioner on the Commission for Human Medicines, where he chairs expert advisory groups for neurological therapeutics, providing advice to UK and Scottish Government on new medicines and therapies.

Contact information

If you would like further information, help or assistance relating to Professor Hunt's research work please email Prof Hunt's personal assistant Bushrah Fahim.

Collaborators

Prof Rayk Behrendt, University of Bonn

Dr Darragh Duffy, Institut Pasteur, Paris

Prof Markus Hofer, University of Sydney

Prof Yanick Crow, University of Edinburgh

Prof David Kavanagh, University of Newcastle

Dr Will McEwan, University of Cambridge

Prof Siddharthan Chandran, University of Edinburgh

Professor Adam Waldman, University of Edinburgh

Professor Will Whiteley, University of Edinburgh

UKDRI laboratory members

Dr Sarah McGlasson

Dr Anna Klingseisen

Dr Katy Reid (Precision MS)

Precision MS team

Dr Conni McCarthy

Dr Agniete Kampaite

Dr Christina Farrugia

Current PhD students

Dr Bastien Rioux

Dr Deborah Forbes (MRC)

Awards and prizes

MHRA Dunlop Prize for Drug Safety (2015)

MRC/MRF Emerging Leader (2018)

Wellcome Trust Senior Clinical Fellowship (2019)

Scottish Healthcare Awards (2023)

Key references

Patone, Handuchetti,… Hunt DPJ,.. Sheikh A, Hippisley-Cox J (2021): Neurological complications after first dose COVID-19 vaccination and SARS-CoV-2 infection: Analyses of linked health records Nature Medicine. Dec;27(12):2144-2153

York, Martin S, FUTURE-MS, Chandran S, Waldman A, Hunt DPJ (2021): MRI-derived g-ratio and lesion severity in newly diagnosed multiple sclerosis Brain Communications 2021 Nov 3;3(4):fcab249

Williams J, McGlasson S, Irani S, Duffy D, Crow Y and Hunt DPJ (2020) Neuromyelitis optica in patients with elevated interferon-alpha concentrations Lancet Neurol. Jan;19(1):31-33

Rodero, M.P., Decalf, J., Bondet, V., Hunt, DPJ (Joint first author)., Rice, G.I., Werneke, S., McGlasson, S.L., Alyanakian, M.A., Bader-Meunier, B., Barnerias, C., et al. (2017). Detection of interferon alpha protein reveals differential levels and cellular sources in disease. J Exp Med 214, 1547-1555.

Casadevall N, Flossmann O, Hunt DPJ (2017) Evolution of Biological Therapeutics: How established medicines can become less safe BMJ 357; j1707

Kavanagh, D., McGlasson, S., Jury, A., Williams, J., Scolding, N., Bellamy, C., Gunther, C., Ritchie, D., Gale, D.P., Kanwar, Y.S. Jackson A., Chandran, S. and Hunt, DPJ. (2016). Type I interferon causes thrombotic microangiopathy by a dose-dependent toxic effect on the microvasculature. Blood 128, 2824-2833

Hunt, DPJ., Kavanagh, D., Drummond, I., Weller, B., Bellamy, C., Overell, J., Evans, S., Jackson, A., and Chandran, S. (2014). Thrombotic microangiopathy associated with interferon beta. N Engl J Med 370, 1270-1271.

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