Healthy global population | 2 February, 2017
MAKING DIRECT IMPACT THROUGH STEM CELL RESEARCH
Dr Andriana Margariti had a choice of which lab to go to during the final semester of her Masters in biomedical science (haematology) at Kingston University. ‘But as soon as I saw that one of the projects was stem cells, that was it.’
She says, ‘I have always been passionate about stem cell research. I realised from a very young age how important it was in clinical trials, helping people with diseases like cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular complications.
‘The group I joined was based on stem cells and cardiovascular disease. I was with them for three months and it was really exciting. At the end they offered me a PhD position and I told them I would think about it before giving them an answer.
‘But within a few days I knew that this path was for me. I had a strong determination to build up my career on stem cells and vascular biology – so I said yes.’
AN AWARD WINNING POSTDOC
She went on to do her PhD in the Department of Cardiology at King’s College, London, and she remained there for postdoctoral training in the cardiovascular division of the British Heart Foundation Centre of Excellence, developing the research that has brought her international recognition since then.
Its focus is on direct reprogramming, where one fully differentiated cell type changes directly into another, a process that can lead to the development of new cell therapies for major diseases. Its impact has been recognised by several prestigious awards, including the Papanikolaou Prize from the Hellenic Medical Society for significant contribution to medical research and the prize for outstanding performance and scientific research awarded by King’s College.
Andriana says, ‘After my postdoc, I decided it was time to start my own lab. I saw that Queen’s had a big recruitment campaign at that time. I came for a visit and talked to people and I could see how the University was planning for the future. There was a lot of ambition, a real desire to invest time in young researchers, to help them get established, and I decided this was an ideal place to start my own group.’
She joined Queen’s in 2013 as a lecturer at the Centre for Experimental Medicine, part of the Institute for Health Sciences, and has continued to drive her research forward, building major international links.
She says, ‘When I moved, I thought it would be important to establish collaborations with the leaders in the field. I wanted to learn from the best’ – and so she decided to spend time in the United States.
COLLABORATION WITH THE WORLDS BEST
The outcome: collaborations with two of the top cell reprogramming laboratories in the world. One is led by Professor Deepak Srivastava at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the other by Professor George Daley at Harvard Medical School.
Andriana is pleased with what has been achieved in the three years since she arrived at Queen’s.
‘We’ve established valuable networks and unique expertise. We’re screening and developing new drugs and not only can we develop new treatments but we can develop very simple prognostic tools that will help with much earlier diagnosis.’
The work is also being recognised through new grants, including funding from BBSRC New Investigator Award and the British Heart Foundation Northern Ireland for an investigation into how skin cells can be transformed into blood vessels to help in the global fight against heart disease.
The research will lead to a better understanding of the process involved when a stem cell taken from a certain type of skin cell is transformed into one that lines blood vessels.
Cell therapy strategies that aim to recover vascular function are being explored increasingly as viable therapeutic avenues. Andriana says, ‘When someone has a heart attack, there is a temporary loss of blood supply to the heart muscle. By developing these cells, we hope to help the heart repair and reestablish blood flow after a heart attack.’
Away from the lab, she is being invited to talk at workshops and conferences in London, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland, Greece, Italy and across the USA. Direct reprogramming is the theme. And her message: The road ahead will be challenging and hard but the journey has begun.