The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
How will your research ultimately be used to change the lives of people with arthritis?
Neuropsychiatric manifestations of arthritic diseases such as lupus, are increasingly recognized as a major cause of disability in these patients. The pathogenesis of these symptoms is unknown. In the recent years, it has been speculated that autoantibodies that recognize neuronal antigens play a key role. Some of these antibodies have been identified in our laboratory and they have the ability to trigger neuronal excitotoxicity and consequently, neurological disorders in mice. The most critical step involved in the onset of the disease is the breaching of the blood-brain barrier that allows the antibodies to enter the brain. The mechanisms involved in this process have been poorly characterized although a role for cytokines and other innate immune molecules has been proposed. My work proposes to explore such mechanisms, which will result in a better understanding of conditions that might predispose to neuropsychiatric lupus. These observations can be extrapolated to other rheumatic diseases that have neuropsychiatric components.
Do you have a personal connection with arthritis that makes the disease more than a statistic to you?
My interest is as a physician and a researcher who wants to contribute to the understanding and treatment of the disease.
What role do you feel the Arthritis Foundation plays in the progress of arthritis research?
The Institute of Medicine reports that the United States is behind other countries in research into immune system self-recognition, the process involved in autoimmune diseases. Not many actions are being taken to change that. A bill has recently been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to “increase awareness of and research on autoimmune diseases”. However, the fact that the Arthritis Foundation is the only national not-for-profit organization that supports the more than 100 types of arthritis and the largest private, not-for-profit contributor to arthritis research in the world, makes its contribution absolutely critical to increase the amount of resources available for research. Additionally, I think the foundation plays a key role as an advocate to local and national governments on behalf of people with autoimmune diseases.
What mysteries surrounding arthritis interest you most?
I am most interested in understanding how proteins and cells go across vascular barriers and reach the tissues during chronic inflammatory conditions. Because cells moving towards the inflamed tissues can either aid in the healing process or also perpetuate the inflammatory response, understanding how their migration occurs and designing new drugs that regulate this process, is probably one of the areas with the most potential from the therapeutic point of view of autoimmunity.
When you’re not in the lab or clinic, where can you most often be found?
Walking in a park, photographing nature.
What hobby do you most enjoy?
Photography and painting.
What non-medical book have you enjoyed lately?
“The History of love” by Nicole Krauss. A fiction novel about a manuscript that survives the Holocaust, and a gift from one of my best friends.
What is your favorite style of music and band or musician?
I like Latin American music, especially Andean folk and tropical rhythms of Central and South America. I am also a big fan of a Canadian/American songwriter, Alanis Morissette, who sings about life and about love.
If you weren’t a medical researcher, what would you be doing now?
I would have continued my career as a physician, helping people in my home country Ecuador, who do not have access to medical attention.