Postdoctoral Researcher in Immunology and Autophagy
Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (KIR)
Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics, Rheumatology & Musculoskeletal Sciences (NDORMS)
Tell us a bit about your role
I have always been fascinated by the research world. After I received my pharmacy degree, I did not want to restrict myself to dispensing drugs, instead I followed my ambition to become a scientific researcher, to better understand the complexity of biological systems, and to develop new drugs against diseases.
Unfortunately, the world of research did not excite me in Syria, my country of origin, I made the conscious decision to move to France to start my PhD on a project which started my long-standing commitment to arthritis research. During my doctoral studies, in which I showed how stroma cells have an essential and central role in the physiopathology of arthritis disease, I developed my expertise in the field of arthritis. I finished my PhD with Honours and contributed to 7 publications, in which I am first author in 4 and second author in 3. After my PhD, I pursued a postdoctoral position to achieve the academic life that I had envisioned for myself and I gained the necessary scientific skills to develop my research further. I now have co-authored 29 publications in top tier scientific journals. Besides this, I have had the opportunity to monitor and supervise many masters and PhD students in the laboratory. I regularly gave lectures to master students in the faculty of pharmacy at the University of Strasbourg where I discovered my love and ability to teach students. In 2016, I obtained L'habilitation à diriger des recherches (HDR), the highest diploma giving by the University in France, this diploma allows me to supervise my own PhD students. These achievements were earned even though I raised two children (with my husband) but without any family support, as my family lives far away, in Syria.
Recently, I joined the lab of Professor Katja Simon, the world leading expert in the field of autophagy and ageing, where I am broadening my scientific skills and developing my research interests further in the field of ageing. I showed that TFEB, a master-regulator of autophagy and lysosomal, is specifically reduced in human old lymphoid cells, which contributes to compromised memory T and B cell responses in the elderly. This work has uncovered novel targets and biomarkers for the development of anti-aging drugs and to improve vaccines in the older adults who are in a high risk of being severely affected by infectious diseases such as SARS-CoV-2. More recently, I found that TFEB is reduced in joint cells from people with OA. Also, we found actively reducing TFEB makes cells behave in an ‘aged’ manner. My theory is that age-related reduction of TFEB in joint tissue is a major driver of OA development. My overall aim is to identify the contribution of the age-related TFEB pathway to the development and progression of osteoarthritis and to use this knowledge to develop new treatments for OA. Recently, I have taken the first step to achieve this goal and was awarded a UK-Spine bridge funding for a target discovery project.
In addition to my project, I have had the opportunity to monitor and supervise three masters and PhD students in the laboratory in these last 3 years.
The Medical Sciences in general and the NDROMs stays committed to ‘develop more and better treatments’ to help patients who are still struggling with living with arthritis and daily pain. With this project, I am bringing together some of the leading experts to help me in the field of ageing and arthritis with a common goal of finding more effective treatment options.
Current treatments for OA mostly help to curtail symptoms. However, a therapy targeting the underlying cause has remained elusive. An increasing body of evidence shows the relevance of age-related processes in the onset and progression of OA. In my proposal, I want to shed light on the TFEB pathway, though known to be central to ageing, has only been partially understood in the context of OA. However, our work demonstrates its capacity to influence OA pathology, making it a promising candidate for drug discovery approaches.
Using this approach, I can identify in a short time frame (3-4 years) several possible drug candidates for further experimental medicine and clinical trials. I hope by treating the core of the pathology, and not just symptoms, we can halt disease progression, decrease pain and improve patients’ quality of life. I believe my work sits at the heart of Medical Sciences ambition to defy disease such as arthritis, alleviate pain and fatigue, develop better treatments and enhance a patient’s quality of life.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
Osteoarthritis is a growing burden with no cure. As with many other aged related diseases, its prevalence and incidence are expected to rise with the increase in life span. OA is a common, often long-term condition, which leads to functional decline and an ongoing loss in quality of life, with important costs to healthcare and society. Patients often live with a lot of disabling symptoms when they have OA (fatigue, chronic pain and immobility). Our current treatments largely aim to manage these symptoms. They are not good enough to halt disease onset or progression. Once the disease has progressed to joint failure, people are often offered costly joint replacement surgery. This application aims to enhance a patient’s quality of life and reduce the socioeconomic cost of this disease by trying to treat the underlying pathways that are driving the disease
Can you tell us about something you've done, contributed to that you're most proud of?
One of the main things I care for is how to protect our environment and planet. Since I joined the Kennedy Institute, I have been an active member of the Institute’s Green Impact Group for the last three years helping it achieve Gold Award status. Last year, it was a challenging year for all of us by the covid-19 and Tiphanie, our Green leader left the institute, it was hard to keep the green impact active, but I took the lead of the green impact committee. With the help of my college Felix and other active members, we could achieve Beyond Gold awards for the Kennedy Institute. Something I am so proud of.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
I would like to see more women scientific leading the science and having no more term like '' looking for practical solutions and effective ways to promote diversity'' as I hope that this change is done and settled.