The Neuroimmunology Unit at SJD Barcelona Children’s Hospital focuses on medical care and research on inflammatory brain diseases in childhood, including autoimmune pathologies such as encephalitis caused by anti-NMDA receptor antibodies, demyelinating diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, and infections of the nervous system.
This internationally acclaimed unit is possible thanks to our centre’s alliance with Hospital Clínic de Barcelona and the August Pi i Sunyer Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBAPS). The three centres form part of the Neuroimmunology Programme, which has biological research laboratories to identify the specific antibodies for these diseases.
The causes of these diseases are researched and new diagnostic tests and treatments are developed in the IDIBAPS facilities. The University of Pennsylvania, where the Programme coordinator (Josep Dalmau) works as a Neurology professor, is involved in many of our studies. The head of the SJD Barcelona Children's Hospital Unit, Thaís Armangué, is part of the International Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Study Group (IPMSSG) European network for the study of multiple sclerosis and is also involved in the European consortium for the study of pediatric neuroimmune diseases.
What are the autoinmune diseases?
An autoimmune neurological disease occurs when our defense mechanism attack the body itself, specifically the nervous system. In some pathologies, substances that are produced as a defense mechanism (called antibodies) can be detected through biological samples. This facilitates diagnosis and prognosis of the problem and makes it possible to determine the need for further treatment. Although in most cases the cause of this abnormal activation of the immune system is unknown, in some cases the trigger may be a tumor or an infection.
What are neuroinfections?
These are infectious diseases such as those caused by viruses or bacteria, which in some cases affect the brain. In many diseases, there is an inflammatory element due to the body itself trying to fight the infection. Neuroinfections include a wide range of diseases, including bacterial meningitis, viral encephalitis and HIV with neurological manifestations.
When a child or adolescent suffers from an autoimmune disease or a neuroinfection, inappropriate detection or diagnosis may aggravate the sequelae, which could affect these patients in the long-term. Determining the type of disease concerned as quickly and accurately as possible and administering the appropriate treatment is important in preventing complications. There are three main groups of disease for which we carry out treatment and research in the Neuroimmunology Unit:
- Acquired demyelinating diseases. This includes diseases such as multiple sclerosis and neuromyelitis optica.
- Paediatric autoimmune encephalitis. In certain forms, the prevalence in children can reach up to 50% of the people affected, as is the case for acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM), which often manifests itself in childhood.
- Neuroinfections. These are caused by a wide range of diseases, including herpetic encephalitis, neurological diseases caused by cytomegalovirus (CMV), congenital infections and patients suffering from HIV with neurological manifestations.