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Dr Mariola Kurowska-Stolarska

Mariola KurowskaDr Mariola Kurowska-Stolarska is an Arthritis Research UK career development fellow at the University of Glasgow’s Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation.

What does your work involve?

What I do can be roughly described as 'basic research'. I perform experiments, teach, write papers and prepare my grant applications based on what I’ve already learned from clinical and experimental data.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

It's been over a year now since my funding started. I hope this is just a beginning of a long and reciprocally rewarding relationship.

What’s the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? Why?

I'm studying small molecules called microRNA. Since the identification of the first microRNA species in mammals less than 10 years ago, we’ve learned a lot about their role in the immune system. They're potent controllers of DNA translation and have a huge impact on what cells produce and how they behave. They have also been implicated in the development of many diseases, including arthritis. In the past 12 months, I've discovered that some types of microRNA are present at abnormally high levels in people with rheumatoid arthritis; specifically, in a type of inflammatory cell, the macrophage. This cell is believed to play a key role in the inflammation and joint destruction characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis.

My research has shown that raised levels of particular microRNAs change the behaviour of macrophages, stimulating them to produce substances that make chronic inflammation worse. There's little doubt that the macrophage is an important target in rheumatoid arthritis, but it’s become increasingly clear that interfering with the way that the macrophage is controlled may be a more effective tactic than trying to mop up its various destructive activities once it has been stimulated. Manipulating certain microRNA molecules seems to offer a powerful tool that, once understood well enough, should to help us to control the behaviour of this cell.

What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?

Drugs that target microRNA are now under consideration for cancer therapy. We also know that the course of some cancers can be predicted by analysing the types of microRNA in the blood. In the long term, we hope to discover whether microRNA profiles could be used to predict a patient’s response to current therapies for rheumatoid arthritis. On my part, I hope to make a significant contribution to identifying a microRNA that could be targeted to develop a safe and effective therapy for rheumatoid arthritis.

What do you do in a typical day?

I still conduct a lot of experiments myself; however, I'm gradually spending more time developing new ideas and devising new experimental approaches. I also attend outpatient clinics quite regularly to collect blood and synovial fluid for my research. We have numerous lab meetings and internal seminars that I'm actively involved in throughout the week.

What's your greatest research achievement?

I hope that the greatest research achievement is still ahead of me, but I'm proud of many things I've done so far. In particular, I value my early work on the contribution of cytokines such as IL-15 and IL-33 to the development of diseases triggered by dysregulation in immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis and asthma. I'm also very excited about my latest microRNA discoveries and have high hopes that these will lead me to a breakthrough fairly soon.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I got inspired by my PhD supervisor, who was specialised in rheumatic diseases. This genuine interest in the complexity of immunopathogenesis of arthritis has stayed with me ever since. Before I was awarded Arthritis Research UK fellowship, I'd worked in the rheumatology field in Warsaw, Zurich and Glasgow.

Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?

Yes, I do. I enjoy thinking that my work has a potential to improve the quality of life for rheumatoid arthritis patients and their families. I'm always very moved by the trust they put in my work and their willingness to donate their blood and synovial fluid for my research.

What would you do if you weren’t a scientist?

I think one way or another, I’d still end up near patients and medical sciences. Should this not be a viable option, I’d choose a career in sports as a sort of a consolation prize.

About Mariola

Years ago I was an athlete. I used to run long distances and was quite good at this too. I still retain my active disposition and love spending time on the go, even though I have very little time to indulge myself this way. I go hiking whenever and wherever I can.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Winter 2011, issue 151.

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