Understanding Inflammation: What is it, why does it happen, and how is it related to disease?
Faculty Feature: Get to Know Dr. Jason Collier

Released: Thursday, April 19, 2018

Remember falling down as a kid and scraping your knee? You may remember how quickly the skin around the scrape turned bright red and tender. That was your body using an inflammatory response to heal the wound.

For a scraped knee, inflammation is a good thing. But as you age, you may start to hear that inflammation isn't so good after all. Inflammation is the body's natural response to protect itself against harm. There are two types: acute and chronic.

Most people are familiar with the acute type. That's what happens when you sprain an ankle or cut your finger. Your immune system targets the area with white blood cells, which causes redness and swelling. Acute inflammation also happens when the body is infected, such as with the flu.

But inflammation can also occur when the body wants to get rid of something, such as toxins from alcohol or smoke or from excess fat cells. This is chronic inflammation, and it can be harmful. Collier's lab focuses on this type of inflammation.

His lab, Islet Biology and Inflammation, focuses on understanding how inflammation relates to the onset of type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Molecules secreted from the body's immune system, which are known to produce inflammation, may also decrease insulin production, Collier said. Rreduced ability of tissues to respond to insulin coupled with reduced production and secretion of insulin are the main drivers of diabetes.

Collier also found that signals that normally lead to inflammation, if not properly regulated, will eventually kill pancreatic islet beta cells. The beta cells are the only cells in the body that produce and release insulin.

If you've heard of chronic inflammation, you've probably heard of glucocorticoids. They are anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat a wide variety of conditions, including arthritis, eczema, asthma and allergies.

Glucocorticoids work well, but they come with some undesirable side effects. People using glucocorticoids may experience an increased risk of depression, increased cholesterol levels, and increased insulin resistance. Glucocorticoid treatment is also the most common cause of drug induced diabetes.

Collier's current research is focused on re-engineering the glucocorticoid molecule to reduce or eliminate the side effects.

"We want to retain all the things we like about the drugs, like their anti-inflammatory properties," Collier said. "But we want to decrease those unwanted effects. Ideally, we want to get rid of them completely."

In the midst of rodent experiments, the modified medicines look extremely promising, Collier said.

"There is a lot of hope in this endeavor," he said. "If we can develop an anti-inflammatory drug that does not promote insulin resistance, we can potentially divert a lot of people [who take glucocorticoids] from developing diabetes."

Q&A With Dr. Collier
Q: What's your favorite way to exercise?
A: I like to lift weights as stress relief, but I also enjoy taking walks around the Pennington Lake to take a break from the computer.
Q: What would be your celebratory meal?
A: Steak and lobster.
Q: What did you want to be when you were a kid?
A: A pirate astronaut
Q: What would you tell an aspiring scientist is the key to success in research?
A: Hard work and attention to detail are a scientist's most important attributes

Originally from Denham Springs, Dr. Collier returned home to Louisiana after working as a professor at the University of Tennessee. His teaching load at UT was high, and he wanted more time to focus on his research.

"Pennington Biomedical has a research infrastructure that rivals the top 20 medical schools in the country," Collier said. "The capabilities here are infinite."

As an undergraduate biochemistry major at LSU, Collier developed an interest in human metabolism. In graduate school, he narrowed his interest down and started studying how our body cells can be reprogrammed to handle more or less carbs, protein or fat.

The more he learned, the more he realized there was still to learn, Collier said. He was hooked on research because of the never-ending discoveries.

Collier remains motivated and encouraged by the potential at Pennington Biomedical.

"Our work here has the potential to help hundreds of thousands of people," he said. "The resources here allow me and everyone in my lab to do our best work, and that's the kind of work that will one day remedy this chronic disease epidemic."

For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit