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ISR 2016 Young Investigator Award goes to two researchers

Usually the Award is given to a single winner, but judges were unable to separate Dr Mary Canavan or Dr Amanda Eakin in this year’s competition.

The title of Dr Canavan’s paper was ‘CD141+ DC are Enriched in the Inflamed Synovium of Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients and Induce both CD4+ and CD8+ T Cell Responses’. Dendritic cells (DC) are a heterogeneous group of antigen-presenting cells.

Dr Canavan said that while their classification within blood and skin has been well characterised, their identification within other tissues, in particular in the context of autoimmunity, is limited. CD141 DC in particular have yet to be identified in RA and it is unknown what part they may play in the pathogenesis of the disease. 

The aim of the study was to identify DC within the inflamed synovium and determine if these DC are phenotypically and functionally distinct from their blood counterparts. 

According to the results of her research, Dr Canavan found the novel DC population, CD141 DC, are significantly enriched in the RA joint and display heightened expression of activation markers compared to their blood counterparts. These cells are capable of inducing both CD4 and CD8 T cell responses and can subsequently activate synovial fibroblasts.

“This data suggests that CD141 DC may orchestrate a number of inflammatory processes that can occur in the inflamed joint,” according to Dr Canavan.

Dr Eakin’s study was titled ‘Association of CD169 Positive Monocytes with Disease Activity in Rheumatoid Arthritis’.

CD169 (Siglec-1) is expressed by monocytes and has been shown to correlate with disease activity in RA patients. The cell-surface protein drives pro-inflammatory processes, including the suppression of Tregs and leads to the loss of control in the immune response, as it prevents damage-causing effector T-cells from being reduced. 

The study investigated the relationship between CD169 and CD169-L density on peripheral cells and disease activity.

Dr Eakin stated that her results showed CD169 was elevated in patients with high disease activity. 

Low levels of FoxP3 in RA patients indicate reduced Treg activation, which may subsequently lead to increased disease activity.

“We postulate that this balance of cells is key in the immune response and could be a surrogate measure of disease activity,” Dr Eakin concluded. 

Dr Canavan received her PhD from Dublin City University in 2012 on the subject of immunology. She then began her first doctoral research position in the translational rheumatology research laboratory in UCD and has since moved to the Molecular Rheumatology Research lab in Trinity College Dublin.

Her research includes the characterisation and functional analysis of immune infiltrates in the inflamed synovium in RA and PsA. 

Dr Eakin was awarded a first-class BSc Hons in Chemistry with Forensic Analysis from Queen’s University Belfast in 2013. 

She was then appointed as a research scientist at Randox Laboratories Ltd, developing novel immunoassays for the detection of cardiovascular disease biomarkers. In January 2015, Dr Eakin was awarded a Department of Education and Learning-funded PhD fellowship in stratified (precision) medicine at Ulster University.

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