The way we act very much depends on our surroundings; not the least on the weather conditions. In a similar way, cells in our body very much depend on what is going on around them. It has been known for a long time that the specific niches in which cells reside impact on the cellular phenotype. While most researchers have looked at chemical signals – either released into the environment or reflecting the composition of the extracellular matrix – it is becoming increasingly clear that also physical properties, such as stiffness and topography, are sensed by a wide variety of cells and influences their decisions.
It is our pleasure to welcome Prof Viola Vogel this Monday at RCSI for the MCT research seminar.
July 16th, 4.00 pm, Albert Lecture Theatre “How does the mechanobiology of extracellular matrix steer cancer progression?”
Prof Vogel and her laboratory at ETH Zurich have pioneered the field of mechanobiology. Her earlier work focused on how proteins act as mechanochemical switches to transduce mechanical signals from the ECM into the cell. More recent work addresses the importance of tissue strain in the development of tumours. Prof Vogel will also share her latest results on how physical constraints affect decision making of macrophages.
Anyone who is interested in getting a different viewing angle on cancer and immunity is heartily invited! To steer your personal decision making towards attending the talk, refreshments will be served from 3.30 pm on in the Atrium.
The Curtis Clock laboratory has a real interest in metabolism, which is a really broad term and means different things to different people. We are interested in how different fuels (sugars , fats, proteins) are metabolised (broken down) within immune cells, and if this has an impact on how that immune cell functions. The key metabolic organelle within a cell is the mitochondria, that is where the breakdown parts of these fuels end up and are converted to energy (ATP). We are a Clock lab, so our raison d’etre (so to speak) is to unravel how different fuels are metabolised within immune cells at different times of day and how the mitochondria work at different times of day, and how that impacts the response of the immune cell at that time of day. This is what we now term “Circadian Immunometabolism”. This leads me on nicely to our title, before the age of electricity, our forefathers never ate in the middle of the night, we believe that our immune system becomes dysfunctional when it has to deal with food during a time when we now believe our immune system is undergoing repair and restoration. So to begin to get at these big questions, Mariana and George have two exciting projects ongoing. Mariana, who is a postdoc in the laboratory, will show how our mitochondria are changing over the course of the day in dendritic cells (these are cells of the innate immune system and are the ones that feed information to our adaptive immune system) (see Fig. 1). The title of her talk is
“Those mitochondria have got rhythms! Mitochondrial activity and antigen processing in dendritic cells is dependent on the molecular clock protein BMAL1”.
George, a PhD student in the lab, is dissecting down into the cells to figure out how the electron transport chain (the side of action for ATP synthesis) is controlled by the clock. The title of his talk is
“Metabolic pathways in a macrophage lacking a molecular clock”
More details of what we do can be found here: www.Curtisclocklab.com
Pathological blood vessel formation (angiogenesis), or the inability of endothelial cells to perform their physiological function (endothelial dysfunction), are defining features of disease. The endothelium actively controls vessel integrity, vascular growth and remodelling, tissue growth and metabolism, immune responses, cell adhesion, angiogenesis, haemostasis and vascular permeability. It is, therefore, a vital and largely unexploited target for novel therapies.
Prof Tracy Robson’s team have identified and characterised a novel anti-angiogenic protein, FK506 binding protein like – FKBPL, significantly advancing our understanding of the anti-angiogenic process, in particular, how tumours recruit blood vessels to support their growth. This led to a collaborative study with Almac Discovery to develop therapeutic peptides based on FKBPL’s active domain to explore their potential in cancer by targeting the ability of tumours to recruit blood vessels to grow, invade and metastasise beyond the site of the primary tumour. The team are also testing the ability of these peptides to sensitise tumours to current therapies and to target cancer stem cells that lead to the onset of resistance and/or recurrent disease. Importantly, these studies led to a ‘first in man’ phase I clinical in cancer patients where the clinical candidate drug, ALM201, was very well tolerated over a wide range of doses. Prof Robson’s team (Dr Stephanie Annett and Dr Gillian Moore) will discuss this data together with new data suggesting a strong role for FKBPL in vascular endothelial dysfunction and possible implications therefore in other diseases associated with vascular disease.
Sepsis is a major challenge in the intensive care unit, where it is one of the leading causes of death. It arises unpredictability and can progress rapidly. Globally there are an estimated 30 million cases of sepsis each year which results in more than 8 million deaths in adults and 5 million deaths in children. Of those who do survive a further one third will die in the following 12 months, those who survive often face life-long consequences, such as new physical, mental and cognitive problems. Although this number is gathered from several sources, all content to the fact that it is likely an underestimate and therefore may very well be the leading cause of mortality worldwide. Currently, there are no approved drugs on the market to control the underlying pathophysiology that triggers the dysregulated host response to sepsis and therefore the management plan focuses on reducing the infection through the use of aggressive intravenous antibiotic therapy and source control. Therefore the cardiovascular infection research group is investigating a therapeutic option that acts early to prevent bacteria binding to the host vascular endothelial cell in the first place would be commercially advantageous as it will prevent the infection from progressing to septic shock and a life-threatening situation as a result of multi-organ failure.
Funded by: Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, Irish Research Council, British Heart Foundation, Health Research Board, Wellcome Trust
Neuroblastoma is a cancer of the nervous system that primarily affects children aged 5 and younger. Although neuroblastoma accounts for only 5% of childhood cancers, it is responsible for approximately 15% of childhood cancer deaths. For children with high-risk neuroblastoma – children in which cancer has spread significantly – the outlook is extremely poor. Approximately 1 in 5 of these children will not respond to treatment, and of those that do, 50% will develop drug resistance leading, in many cases, to death.
Dr Olga Piskareva, an NCRC supported scientist and Honorary Lecturer at RCSI, has recently published a study describing a new way to grow cancer cells in the lab. Traditionally, researchers grow cancer cells in the flasks on the flat surface. This is not the way cells grow in the human body. Dr Piskareva in collaboration with Dr Curtin and Prof O’Brien has designed a new way to grow cancer cells that recreate their growth in 3 dimensions as in the human or mice body. They used special cotton wool like sponges as a new home for cancer cells and populated them with cancer cells. At the next step, they gave cells the drug at the different amount and checked what happened. In this system, cells responded only to the drug at doses used in the clinic or mice models.
This new strategy to grow cells on sponges should help to understand cancer cell behaviour better and accelerate the discovery and development of new effective drugs for neuroblastoma and other cancers. This, in turn, will make the outlook for little patients better and improve their quality of life.
Our group is a drug discovery lab currently working on the development of a novel Fc gamma receptor IIa inhibitors. FcgRIIa is a low affinity receptor for Fc portion of immunoglobulin G (IgG) and is implicated in a variety of conditions that are still mainly untreatable, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, immune thrombocytopenia, sepsis. FcgRIIa is widely expressed by human innate immune cells, and is the only Fc gamma receptor found on human platelets.
Mainly over-stimulation of the FcgRIIa receptor in these conditions that leads to the progression of the disease. For example, in sepsis the platelets get activated via FcgRIIa in response to bacteria present in the blood, which results in thrombocytopenia and disseminated immune coagulopathy. This causes, not only internal haemorrhage but also formation of blood clots that block peripheral blood vessels leading to sepsis-associated limb loss, heart attacks and/or strokes. Using a targeted approach, such as pharmacophore modelling, our group has developed a small molecule compound that effectively blocks FcgRIIa-mediated platelet aggregation in vitro. In agreement with the chosen targeted approach, this compound was shown to bind to the FcgRIIa directly and possesses specificity for the FcgRII subgroup of the Fcg receptors.
Ultimately, this compound has a great potential to be used for treatment of other FcgRIIa-mediated auto-immune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and an array of immune thrombocytopenia conditions.
Prof Dermot Cox, Dr Tatiana Devine and Padraig Norton
Cystic Fibrosis (CF) is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. CF is caused by mutations in the Cystic Fibrosis Transmembrane Regulator (CFTR) gene which encodes a chloride channel responsible for helping conduct chloride and other ions across epithelial membranes. Loss of functional CFTR channel disrupts ionic homeostasis resulting in mucus production that clogs the lungs and results in a vicious cycle of chronic infection/inflammation. There are almost 2,000 different variants in the CFTR gene and 70 % of CF patients contain a mutation at position 508, which results in the loss of Phe508 and disruption of the folding pathway of CFTR. ΔF508 CFTR is a trafficking mutant that is retained in the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and unable to reach the plasma membrane and function correctly as a chloride channel. The Coppinger research lab is focused on understanding the basic mechanisms of CF disease with a focus on the ΔF508 mutation and translating these findings into diagnostics/therapies. We are particularly interested in two areas of research 1. Using basic science technologies to identify novel signalling pathways in CF to discover new CFTR corrector therapies in ΔF508 CF models. We have recently discovered the PI3K/Akt/mTOR signalling pathway to be dysregulated in CF models and a possible therapeutic avenue worth further exploration in CF. Additionally, we are interested in 2. Investigating how diminished ΔF508 CFTR activity leads to heightened inflammatory cell recruitment and CF airway pathogenesis. Exosomes are nanovesicles (40–100 nm) actively secreted by cells and are crucial mediators of intercellular communications. We hypothesised that exosomes may be released from ΔF508 CF patient bronchial cells/fluids and play a role in regulating immune cell function. Preliminary data has confirmed this hypothesis and also indicated exosomal signatures may possibly serve as markers of disease progression in CF. These studies are in collaboration between several groups at the National Children’s Research Centre, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Beaumont Hospital University College Dublin, Cystic Fibrosis Unit, St Vincent’s Hospital.
Last week was another superb week for circadian research in the Molecular and Cellular Therapeutics Department. The Curtis Laboratory published our first big paper on the immune body clock in Nature Communications. This study originated back in 2013. I was still a postdoc in Prof. Luke O’Neills laboratory at Trinity College and was intrigued by some of the studies that showed that multiple sclerosis (MS) was affected by the circadian disruption. A key study showed that teenagers who work shift work before the age of 18 are more susceptible to multiple sclerosis in later life. I wondered if we would see any differences in multiple sclerosis if we disturbed the immune body clock. I approached Prof. Kingston Mills also at Trinity College, who is one of the world leaders of multiple sclerosis and has a key mouse model that recapitulates certain features of MS, called experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). The first experiment we conducted was to see if a mouse which does not have the molecular clock in macrophages was more susceptible to disease, and low and behold it was! This project was driven by one of the most talented researchers that I have ever had the pleasure of working with, Dr. Caroline Sutton, who is a senior postdoctoral fellow in Prof. Mills lab. This project is a great example of collaboration between multiple labs, Mills, O’Neill and my own new group here at RCSI.
And if that wasn’t enough! We also hosted the circadian expert Prof. Qing-jun Meng for our second institutional seminar series on Thursday. Prof. Meng is a world expert on clocks in the musculoskeletal system at University of Manchester. I met Qing-jun in 2013, and have followed his research intensely. He has made seminal discoveries on the impact of the clock on cartilage and invertebral disk function and how this leads to diseases of ageing, such as osteoarthritis and lower back pain. He had the audience enthralled for an hour with his rhythmic images of cells glowing with 24-hour rhythms, and his use of Google searches. It was an absolute pleasure to have Qing-jun with us for the day, and I hope that we can have him back again in the near future.
Some news features on the article can be found here:
Dr Justyna Surowka, Medical University of Lublin, Lublin, Poland
(Current Erasmus Post-doc with the O’Connor group) presented “Assessment of chosen immune cell populations in patients with ovarian cancer”
Despite the decades of studies on developing new therapeutic strategies, ovarian cancer remains one of the malignancies with the highest mortality rate. Therefore, new therapies, among them immunotherapy, are in demand. Recently, Kurman and Shih proposed a new classification of ovarian cancer. It is based on molecular and histopathological differences between tumors and divides them into two subtypes: type I and type II ovarian cancer. However, there are no studies exploring functions of an immune system in those types of ovarian cancer. We demonstrated that each type of ovarian cancer can induce a unique phenotype of dendritic cells and differentiation of Tregs, both associated with immunosuppressive function, which may be an obstacle while developing effective anticancer dendritic cell vaccination.
Dr Sudipto Das presented “Dissecting the epigenome of metastatic colorectal cancer”
The talk highlighted the experimental and analytical pipelines that have been established in the lab in order to develop single-base pair resolution DNA methylation maps derived from difficult-to-handle FFPE (Formalin Fixed Paraffin Embedded) tissue. We next applied these optimized approaches to primary tumour samples derived from 58 metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC) patients and 10 matched normal samples, with an aim to unravel the methylation alterations across both conventional gene regulatory regions such as promoters as well as alternative regulatory elements such as enhancers of protein-coding and non-coding genes. Intriguingly, we have now identified a DNA methylation specific signature consisting of 377 differentially methylated loci that differentiates tumour and normal and in parallel provides us with three distinctive clinical clusters, which show a significant overlap with prognostically relevant consensus molecular sub-types of CRC. However, further work is warranted to ascertain the precise function of the signature as well as their role in predicting patient response to treatment.
The second part of the talk detailed about the ongoing genomics focused on “n-of-1” genomic studies which essentially involves atypical cancer presentation in patients, with the idea of understanding the biology of such unusual clinical phenotypes and moreover to identify any potential therapeutic targets.
As some of you know, I have joined RCSI as a StAR research lecturer in June. My plan is to establish a lab on ‘MechanoVascular Biology and Microscopy’. What do I mean by this?
The first part ‘MechanoVascular Biology’ sets the scope. I am interested in how cells in the cardiovascular system use mechanical forces to achieve their tasks. As mechanical and chemical cell functions are tightly related, both play important roles in health and disease. Most research has focused on one or the other aspect, but not both. The novel research field of ‘mechanobiology’ takes an integrative approach to better understand how physical forces co-regulate chemical processes on the molecular level. In my previous work at ETH Zurich, I have studied how fibroblasts sense matrix stiffness and respond to it. Here at RCSI, I want to study platelets in the context of thrombosis and, over the years, investigate their interplay with endothelial cells.
The second part ‘Microscopy’ highlights one of the major working horses in my lab. Following the credo ‘seeing is believing’, watching cells can tell you a lot about how they do things. I use microscopy to test hypothesis but also to discover unexpected behaviour. Over the years, I have developed several new microscopy techniques to look at sub-second dynamic processes, directly measure cellular tractions, or determine the nanoscale architecture of multi-protein structures. These are great tools to better understand how the processes starting from platelet activation and ending with the consolidation of the thrombus are regulated in space and time. For this we will use in vitro models, but I am keen to move in the future towards in vivo imaging.
By now, you may have noticed from my scientific viewpoint and my enthusiasm for technology that my background is in physics. I studied physics with a specialization on biophysics at the Technical University Munich. My PhD work at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry focused on electrical stimulation of neurons with extracellular electrodes. After a short postdoc at the Ludwig Maximilians University Munich where I studied bi-molecular binding kinetics in living cells, I moved to ETH Zurich in Switzerland. That’s where I have started with mechanobiology and super-resolution fluorescence microscopy, which I know bring over to RCSI.
A long way is lying ahead of me to cross the bridge towards clinical research. I look forward to having many inspiring discussions with you, already thank you for the ones we had so far, and hope that I can make a valuable contribution to the research here at RCSI!
Looking forward to seeing you at MCT Research Talks on 16th October 2017 at 12.00 TR4!