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Dafni is a Translational Research Fellow in the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology (Nuffield Department of Orthopaedics Rheumatology and Musculoskeletal Sciences). Here she discusses her project and benefits she has drawn from her experience so far as an Oxford-BMS Fellow.

What is your research background?

Dafni Gyftaki-VenieriMy main interests revolve around translational research, where, in collaboration with industry, we strive to better understand and provide treatments for human diseases. I have a background in Genetics and Biomedicine, focusing on the field of Rheumatology and Matrix Biology. My PhD project examined the functions of the transcriptional regulator YAP and mechanosensing in skin fibrosis for the identification of novel potential targets for therapy working together with UCB pharma. I gained a strong background knowledge in mechanisms of fibrosis, inflammation, and cell-matrix networks while studying the effects of differing environmental cues on primary skin fibroblasts isolated from scleroderma patients. I optimised hydrogel formulations of different stiffnesses and created a high throughput compound screening assay for the identification of novel fibrotic inhibitors.

What are you researching now?

I have since remained in the field of Rheumatology and Matrix Biology and am currently using cell-matrix ecosystems to define disease progression and treatment response in fibrosis. Developing a blueprint for translating transcriptomic datasets into a precise human atlas in fibrotic disease, will increase our understanding of the molecular and topological organisation of extracellular networks, and how they relate to cell niches in health and disease. Studies on the induction and persistence of the extracellular matrix molecule tenascin-C upon autoimmune and fibrotic diseases, and its crosstalk with JNK signalling, will shed light in new regulatory pathways of fibrosis.

What has your experience of this Fellowship been like?

This fellowship provides a great platform to use cutting-edge scientific techniques to advance findings in the field. I am very excited to have the chance to interact with our industrial collaborators and am grateful for the regular meetings and the opportunities to visit and work in BMS labs, that fuel these interactions. It is a unique opportunity to drive new research and further develop scientific expertise in a nurturing and supportive environment.

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