Professor Marco Londei
Marco Londei is professor of autoimmunity at the Institute of Child Health, University College, London.
What does your work involve?
The core of my work is the study of basic mechanisms that are involved in understanding how the immune system, which normally fights infections, initiates autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. The simple idea behind this strategy is that only by understanding how a disease works can we develop better and more effectives therapies to treat it. The work is focused on the dissection of the intracellular interaction between white cells that make up the immune system, such as lymphocytes and macrophages. Manipulating these cells can provide new ways of blocking inflammation.
How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?
I've been supported by Arthritis Research UK for the last three years since I joined the Institute of Child Health. However, my connection with Arthritis Research UK has been a longstanding one as I was previously based at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, an Arthritis Research UK-core funded institution.
What's the most important thing you've found out in the past 12 months? And why?
We're currently studying the role of a type of myeloid cells (a type of white cell) which we've found to be increased during the inflammatory response in a model of rheumatoid arthritis. These cells have been reported in other conditions, such as cancers, to inhibit immune responses and indeed they're called myeloid suppressor cells (MSC). We're highly interested in these cells for several reasons. It's now widely accepted that autoimmune inflammatory responses are modulated by regulatory networks/cells, and a significant amount of effort has been poured in exploring the function of these cells/networks as they may hold potential new clues to treat chronic inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. We're the first group to have explored and described this type of cells (MSC) in rheumatoid arthritis-like conditions. We're at the moment analysing how these cells might control the inflammatory process.
What do you hope or expect to achieve as a result of your Arthritis Research UK funding?
With the present funding we hope to unravel or at least explore the role of MSC in the development of rheumatoid arthritis. We don't yet know whether these cells will be a good target for new therapies and it's still not clear whether it's better to boost or curb the number and function of these cells. However, the expansion of MSC during the inflammatory response warrants their study.
What do you do in a typical day?
A typical day is focused on the organisation of my research group, thus I work in the lab, as well as the planning and supervision of PhDs and postdoctoral fellows. I also have clinical commitments but the core of my work is on research.
What's your greatest research achievement?
I was the first scientist in the world to have isolated from tissues of patients with autoimmune disease self-reactive T-cells (a type of cell which initiate almost all autoimmune diseases) Harnessing or redirecting such self-reactive T-cells is now one of the most followed research strategies to control autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Why did you choose to do this work?
Science and in particular biomedical sciences have always been a major interest since I was a child. I then became a medical doctor and expanded my interests in the arena of biomedical sciences.
Do you ever think about how your work can help people with arthritis?
The drive of my work is to try to understand how autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, start and how they become chronic and so debilitating for patients. We, however, can only help patients if we understand better how the disease is induced; therefore the work that we perform will help patients as new or more efficient therapies will naturally spring from our work.
What would you do if you weren't a scientist?
This is a difficult question to answer as I have been lucky to fulfil the dream I had as a child, to be a scientist. On the other hand I spent my childhood in the countryside and I might have elected to be a vet.
I like classical music and I have a large collection of CDs. I often go to the theatre to see plays and concerts. The last play I saw was National Anthems at the Old Vic. One of my preferred venues is the Wigmore Hall with that special atmosphere that a smaller hall can provide.
This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Spring 2005, issue 128.