From Humble Seeds to Strong Roots in Research

From Humble Seeds to Strong Roots in Research

Dr. Iannis Adamopoulos grew up in Athens, Greece and moved to England at the age of sixteen. He lived in London and Oxford where he pursued his under and postgraduate studies, receiving an MPhil from the University College London and a DPhil from the prestigious University of Oxford. “I am grateful to my mentors in Oxford who advised me to continue my training in the USA. I took their advice to heart and the day after I submitted my thesis, flew to the USA to work at the laboratory of Dr. Steven Teitelbaum at Washington University of St. Louis.” Dr. Adamopoulos was only meant to remain in the USA for 6 months before returning to Oxford. However, he chose to stay, finding his research home first at the DNAX Research Institute, and then at UC Davis where he continues his work in the field of inflammatory research.

Maintaining Balance

We often under-appreciate the intricate interplay between cells and tissues that must be maintained in order to keep us healthy. One such example is the equilibrium that occurs in bone remodeling to ensure a healthy skeletal system. Bone is constantly being altered by osteoclasts (bone resorbing cells) and osteoblasts (bone producing cells). If this system becomes unbalanced, it can lead to various diseases, including osteoporosis and arthritis. Dr. Adamopoulos found the ability that our bodies possess to control their own destruction and repair to be fascinating. As such, Dr. Adamopoulos directed his research towards understanding the sometimes-subtle manner in which we strive to maintain this balance in relation to inflammatory arthritis, looking to unravel the complex mechanisms involved, so that they may be exploited for therapeutic intervention.

Driving Force

When asked what it is that inspired him to enter this field of research, Dr. Adamopoulos responded with humility and humor:

“There are many moments in research that are inspiring, and we need to be inspired continuously to maintain our enthusiasm for research. Luckily, there is no shortage of these moments in science! If I had to single one out, it would be from early in my research career as an undergraduate. I was involved in a paper where we created a high-density cell culture of liver cells in a bioreactor that could be used as a bioartificial liver. The idea that someone could actually benefit from my experiment and that it could possibly save someone’s life made my research much more meaningful and trivialized everything else I was doing, (including soccer!).”

Building on Opportunity

In 2011, Dr. Adamopoulos was awarded the joint ANRF-Sontag fellowship. This was his first encounter with ANRF, but the relationship continued to grow and flourish. This award helped establish Dr. Adamopoulos’ laboratory, playing a central role in the laboratory gaining additional high value awards in the first year of its operation. This ensured a strong start for the lab, which has, from then on, consistently produced multiple quality publications and made several contributions in the field. Dr. Adamopoulos has also been able to mentor and guide numerous undergraduate, PhD and post-doctoral researchers. He feels extremely honored when his trainees receive awards as his laboratory recognizes the importance of developing a new generation of scientists.

The Nature of Research

It would be impossible to review all the published data that has arisen from work in the Adamopoulos Laboratory in the space available here. We will therefore highlight work that was undertaken with funding from ANRF and resulting in a robust publication in the Journal of Autoimmunity which was also highlighted by the prestigious Nature Reviews Rheumatology.

The research conducted during this period yielded results which pointed to an alternative osteoclastogenic pathway in bone destruction observed in inflammatory arthritis. This pathway was found to occur independently of receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand (RANKL), RANKL being a key mediator of bone resorption. This novel pathway also highlighted the key role of synovial fibroblasts, which are cells important in the maintenance of joint homeostasis. This discovery was founded on investigations examining the function of factors secreted by synovial fibroblasts and the effect they have on osteoclast precursors.  The study investigated the RANKL pathway which is known to promote osteoclastogenesis under normal physiological conditions where it is important to maintain balance between the synthesis and resorption of bone. It was found that in inflammatory arthritis bone resorption continued to occur, even when this pathway was inhibited. This led the team to reason that factors, not identified at the time, acted directly on osteoclast differentiation. Further studies from Dr. Adamopoulos’ lab led to the identification of pro-inflammatory pathways that were independent of RANKL and play a critical role in bone loss in many types of inflammatory arthritis. Since then, Dr. Adamopoulos’ lab has defined the exact cellular and molecular interactions that have also been confirmed by other laboratories worldwide.

Continued Growth

The Adamopoulos Laboratory has continued to produce ground-breaking research and established new arthritis animal models that highlight the importance of immune cytokines (in particular IL-23 and IL-17) in arthritis initiation and bone homeostasis. Using state-of-the-art in vivo, in vitro and in silico approaches, they continue their endeavor to define the cellular and molecular mechanisms that take place in this intriguing interplay of the immune and skeletal systems. ANRF is extremely proud to have played a small role in the support of this phenomenal researcher and the impressive work that continues in his laboratory.

Article Author
Victor Zdor
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