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Hoffman Research

Current Philosophic Research:

How does philosophy and immunology relate to one another?  This is the field of “ImmunoPhilosophy.”  It is not the attempt to immunize ourselves against the philosophical diseases, but rather to understand how these two disciplines can be integrated.  Does immunology have anything to contribute to philosophy and can philosophy contribute to immunology.  These investigations take us into the history and philosophy of science, philosophy of mind, bioethics and the like. This research builds upon some of the research we have done in our laboratory. One such topic focuses on psychoneuroimmunology and the mind-brain relation. What are the theoretical foundations of PNI? Do they favor one theory of the mind-brain relation over another (e.g., dualistic interactionism vs. materialist identity theory)?  Immunology has been called the science of self/non-self discrimination.  How can the immune system protect us from pathogenic infections, without destroying the self?  What is this “self” and how is it related to philosophic accounts and problems of self (personal identity)?  What are the implications of immunology and psychoneuroimmunology for enhancement medical technology and transhumanism, the view that we should use biotechnology to transform the human into the super- or post-human?  These are some of the topics and issues being investigated.

Projects:

Our philosophic research is tied to our prior scientific project goals.  1)  The Immunologic Self.  We primarily study autoimmunity, which is the immune system attacking self.  The question is, "What exactly is the self?"  This is investigated from both philosophical and immunologic perspectives.  It also has implications for science, technology and ethics, in the area of human enhancement and the ideology of transhumanism.  2) INP and the Mind-Brain Relation. Immunoneuropsychology (INP) studies how the mind, brain and immune system are related.  There are, however, no clear theoretical or conceptual foundations for this area of science.  These topics take us into the philosophy of mind and the issue of what is the relation between consciousness and brain processes?  We investigate this from the perspective of INP and philosophy.  It also has societal and ethical implications for topics such as cognitive and emotional enhancement.    3) INP and Well being - this is a planned project to investigate the connections between virtue, well being and the technological enhancement of human beings.  One aspect of this project is to better understand what is happiness and in what way can it impact health and well-being.  This is tied to our previous empirical research on "psychosocial influences on autoimmunity".

Past Neuroimmunology Lab Research:

Our past research focused on the interactions and relations between the immune system and central nervous system (CNS). This biomedical research includes how the immune system can mediate neurologic and psychiatric disorders. The primary focus was on CNS lupus, but there are implications for diseases such as multiple sclerosis, myasthenia gravis and rheumatoid arthritis. We also investigated the neuroimmunological circuitry (viz., interconnections between the brain and immune system). Some questions addressed were: How do psychosocial factors affect immune system functioning? To what extent does the immune system convey information to the brain?   Our methodology used cell culture, hybridoma technology, monoclonal antibodies, flow cytometry, ELISA, immunoblotting, gel electrophoresis, immunohistochemistry, as well as behavioral and neuroscience techniques.  We discovered that brain reactive autoantibodies (BRAA) could be found in lupus and likely played a role in some of the associated CNS manifestations.  We characterized these autoantibodies and showed a correlation between their levels and behavioral manifestations in murine lupus.  We also showed that immune complexes likely played a role in CNS manifestations, including increasing permeability of the blood-brain barrier, which would allow BRAA to enter the CNS.  We examined the neuro-immunological circuitry, showing that cytokines could affect neuronal function.  We also were the first to show a relation between mood and the immune system in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

Past Society for Neuroscience Meetings:


Steve, Jan and Dave


Steve and Dan
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