Answers From Within – A Spotlight on Pierre Cunin

Answers From Within – A Spotlight on Pierre Cunin

Dr. Cunin began his academic journey by studying a degree in pharmacology in France. Furthering his education at the University of Angers, he obtained his PhD in 2012. He arrived in the United States in 2013 where he spent the next four years pursuing his postdoctoral research in Boston at Brigham and Women’s hospital. Dr. Cunin is currently an instructor in medicine at Harvard Medical School and has undertaken several training posts in research laboratories, including the Curie Institute and the University of Bath.

Unravelling the Processes, Systems & Mechanisms

The complex and intricate nature of the mechanisms driving biological processes always held a fascination for Dr Cunin. As he progressed through his research, he came to realize the importance of understanding these mechanisms to develop novel therapeutics, driving this researcher to investigate new arthritis treatments.

Autoimmune diseases are among the most prevalent, with RA affecting 0.5-1% of adults in the United States. However, RA remains an inadequately understood disease, with many knowledge gaps regarding its pathophysiology (altered physiological processes associated with disease or injury). Part of the reason for this is the variety of cell lineages in the development of arthritis. Macrophages, B and T lymphocytes, mast cells, neutrophils, and most recently platelets and megakaryocytes have all been found to be contributors. Understanding the role of these cell types in joint injury and how the immune cells interact and communicate, aggravating the condition will undoubtedly offer opportunities to discover novel drug targets.

Flaming the fires of Inflammatory Research

As a doctor in Pharmacology, Dr Cunin developed an intense and lasting interest in inflammatory and autoimmune disease therapeutics. He developed an in-depth understanding of human and mouse immune cells, as well as technical expertise in cellular immunology, molecular biology, biochemistry, and mouse experimentation. These are the tools he now uses to study the role of the megakaryocyte (large bone marrow cells that are responsible for the production of platelets, required for normal blood clotting to occur) in arthritis and systemic inflammation in Dr Peter Nigrovic’s laboratory. 

Cell-in-Cell Interactions…

Neutrophils are the most abundant white blood cells in mammals and are a key component in the innate immune system. These cells play a fundamental role in the initiation and progression of inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Neutrophils migrate from the blood to the joints, where they release pro-inflammatory molecules and other compounds resulting in the recruitment of additional inflammatory cells, eventually leading to joint destruction. 

Dr Cunin demonstrated that megakaryocytes can mediate inflammatory arthritis (published in 2017 in The Journal of Clinical Investigation). He is currently working on an intriguing biological phenomenon, termed emperipolesis, whereby neutrophils enter into, and then exit a megakaryocyte. Emperipolesis occurs in the bone marrow, where neutrophils mature. The research indicates that during emperipolesis, megakaryocytes transfer biological material to the neutrophils, which is transported with them upon exiting the megakaryocytes. Dr Cunin demonstrated that Tthis event enhanced inflammatory functions. Interestingly, he found that emperipolesis is increased in patients with arthritis. Therefore, pharmacological manipulation of emperipolesis may have significant implications for arthritis and other neutrophil-driven inflammatory disorder treatment strategies. This research has also been elemental in defining a new role for megakaryocytes as immune cells in their own right as well providing insights into the overlap of haematology and immunology, both areas of research critical to the study of arthritis. 

Honouring Opportunities Granted…

As an ANRF fellow Dr Cunin has, based on this data, published two peer reviewed journal articles with a third currently under review. He believes that the grant awarded to him by ANRF is a fundamental part of establishing himself as an independent investigator. He is hopeful that the grant will contribute to a fundamental change in our understanding of megakaryocytes as participants in immunity, and potentially open new avenues for intervention in systemic inflammation. Additionally, the grant afforded the opportunity to hire a technical research assistant, dedicated to the support of this project. This demonstrates the way in which these grants create a community of researchers striving towards the same goal. 

Together a Cure is Possible…

This work has been presented at the international symposium “Neutrophil” 2018 in Canada. and at the Gordon Research Conference “Cell Biology of Megakaryocytes and Platelets” in Galveston, Texas. Providing opportunities to connect and collaborate with other researchers in the field. Together these collaborative efforts keep arthritis research moving in a positive direction. 

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Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. There are several ways to support research through the ANRF. Find out more and donate today.

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