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Professor Yuti Chernajovsky

Yuti ChernajovskyYuti Chernajovsky is Arthritis Research UK professor of rheumatology at the bone and joint unit at Barts and the London Queen Mary's School of Medicine and Dentistry.

What does your work involve?

Our work involves the development of new therapies through protein design and cell engineering. We do this by using recombinant DNA methods. We use genetic engineering and modify known important regulators of inflammation that our own genes produce and that can be made more useful and safer for therapeutic applications.

Another protein-engineering method that we're developing is fusing cytokines to antibody regions (immunocytokines) that can target the cytokine directly to joints or other tissues. On the cell engineering front, in the past we have made use of T-cells to go to the joint and deliver anti-inflammatory cytokines. Currently we're engineering adult mesenchymal stem cells to attach to degraded cartilage, as found in osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis patients, and to differentiate them into chondrocytes regenerating the tissue. In addition, we've developed new ways of expressing therapeutic agents in the cells of patients only when needed, ensuring delivery during flare-ups and avoiding side-effects.

How long has Arthritis Research UK been funding you?

I've received funding from Arthritis Research UK since 1991.

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

We've found several important things. For example, we found how patients carrying a particular mutation in a cytokine receptor develop inflammation. We found a simple way to purify our latent cytokines and have also shown that our approach to render cytokines latent worked as expected, with another anti-inflammatory cytokine called interleukin-10. These findings will enable us to assess the therapeutic applications of these molecules more rapidly.

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

Most of our research is translational, meaning that if successful it should have clinical applications. We expect to reach clinical trials with some of our studies in the near future.

What do you do in a typical day?

I start early, around 6 am, by walking the dog and arrive early to work so that I can deal with some writing and emails before the rest of my colleagues show up. In the summer, when teaching and conferences have disappeared, I go back to the lab to do some DNA cloning, help others and relax. My office is always open and everybody is welcome to come to update me on results, brainstorm or to discuss research problems and ways to resolve them. Normally, I know what everybody is doing and if after a while they don't come to see me I go to the lab or the office to see what's new. I have the best team in the world and we're very supportive of each other.

What's your greatest research achievement?

I believe that we're continuously trying to accomplish more so I don't know whether I've had a greatest achievement yet.

Why did you choose to do this work?

I started working on immuno-gene therapy of cancer when I was in the USA. When I arrived at the Kennedy Institute for Rheumatology in 1991, I started modifying the ideas I had for cancer gene therapy into arthritis therapy. It was very challenging to cross disciplines and be able to find the common mechanisms and the differences between such diseases.

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

Application, application and application are the three words that drive our efforts. However, we're very careful and rigorous in our approach as we don't want to raise false hopes in patients and also want our treatments to be safe.

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

As a teenager I was impressed by books I read about Albert Schweitzer and the history of the Mayo brothers, who founded one of the most famous hospitals in the world. I was very keen to get into medicine. This I started in Argentina, but it was by chance and encouragement from my mother that I ended up studying biology in Israel. I was lucky to get into scientific research at the Weizmann Institute of Science, where I learnt molecular biology and got involved in genetic engineering/biomedicine when this field was just starting. I haven't stopped enjoying the learning and creativity that this area of science can provide. I wouldn't change it for anything else.

About Yuti

I'm pretty bad at sports but enjoy cycling, listening to classical music, reading and playing the clarinet (also not so good!). My future wife, Lorna, and I love taking walks in the countryside, cooking, sharing scientific knowledge and discussing politics. My daughter, Adil, has found great satisfaction in her studies as an occupational therapist and I hope she'll enjoy her work as much as I enjoy mine.

This article first appeared in Arthritis Today Winter 2006, issue 131.

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