Inflammation in Chronic Disease Overview


Inflammation is the body’s immediate response to damage of its tissues and cells by pathogens, harmful stimuli, or physical injury. The inflammatory process is characterized by redness, swelling, an increase in temperature, loss of normal bodily function and pain. Nonetheless, inflammation is crucial to health. Without it, wounds and infections would never heal.

Inflammation can be either acute or chronic. Acute inflammation is the body’s initial response to harmful stimuli and involves increased movement of plasma and immune cells from the blood into injured tissues, followed by a cascade of biochemical reactions that promote the inflammatory response. It is a complex response that involves many players, including the local circulatory system, the immune system, various cells within the injured tissue, and in certain cases, the microbiome (the microorganisms existing in a particular part of the body). However, in prolonged, or chronic, inflammation, there is a shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation, and the simultaneous destruction and restoration of the tissue. Inflammation is also responsible for transplant rejection, which is a major obstacle in organ transplant procedures.

To date, researchers have made considerable progress in understanding the cellular and molecular events that are involved in the acute inflammatory response. However, the events that lead to localized or systemic chronic inflammation, such as chronic infections and autoimmune diseases, are only partly understood. There is an urgent need to set forward a national research initiative on Inflammation in Chronic Disease. Our aging society is facing a growing burden of chronic disease and a greater need for complex treatment approaches, resulting in increased health care costs and human suffering.

Key Research Needs

Existing research has already confirmed that an inflammatory response can be controlled at multiple levels, but there is still a lot to be learned about how inflammation is regulated. This is due in part to the complexity of the inflammatory response and the multitude of components and factors involved. However, there appear to be some common principles across different inflammatory diseases, and these commonalities may prove to be fundamental to inflammation itself. Researchers must explore these common principles further to help fill in the gaps in our understanding of the response.

Through the Inflammation in Chronic Disease initiative, CIHR will support research teams that look beyond individual diseases and conditions. By helping identify a unifying theory to explain chronic inflammatory states, these teams will lay the foundation for the development of interventions to reduce and alleviate diseases associated with inflammation.


The goal of this initiative is to develop a unified, transformative Canadian strategy on inflammation. This initiative will support health research to accelerate the discovery and validation of common biomarkers, therapeutic targets, and inflammatory mechanisms among chronic diseases. The ultimate goal of this research will be to prevent and/or treat chronic disease by reducing inflammation and pain through novel interventions. The six major objectives of this initiative include:

  • Understanding the mechanisms underlying tissue inflammation across chronic diseases, including following organ transplantation.
  • Identifying biomarkers common to inflammatory diseases and potential therapeutic targets and treatments, including microbiota.
  • Developing imaging strategies to detect and monitor the progression of inflammation and pain, and their responsiveness to treatment.
  • Identifying interventions and effective programs for prevention of chronic disease and the pain associated with chronic disease.
  • Providing an opportunity for the transplantation community to come together in a national research program that will lead to an increase in the quantity and quality of donor organs and improved long-term outcomes for transplant patients. Learn more about the Transplantation Research Initiative.
  • Strengthening Canada’s role as a leader in the International Human Microbiome Consortium and providing valuable insights into the relationship between the microbiome, inflammation and a number of chronic diseases. Learn more about the Canadian Microbiome Initiative.

Desired Impacts

This initiative will make use of significant Canadian strengths in areas such as inflammation, biomarkers, pain, imaging, physical activity, transplantation and microbiome research. Additionally, the initiative will address the global objective of connecting research groups working in different chronic disease areas. In doing so, the initiative will help advance the research on common pathways and interventions in chronic disease, ultimately contributing to a unified Canadian chronic disease strategy. The initiative will achieve this through a variety of funding opportunities with a multi-disciplinary, multi-disease and multi-sectoral focus.

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