Laidlaw Undergraduate Research and Leadership Programme

Sophie Lawlor has just completed a research internship (summer 2020) in the Molecular Rheumatology unit, under the supervision of Prof Ursula Fearon and Dr Megan Hanlon. Sophie was awarded a prestigious Laidlaw Undergraduate Research Scholarship to perform her research. The Laidlaw Leadership Programme is an innovative scholarship designed to support talented and motivated undergraduate students from all discipline. The Programme aims to develop their leadership and research skills and give them  insight into a specific research field at an early stage of their studies. Sophie spent 4 weeks in the lab focused on a project entitled  ‘Distinct pathogenic mechanisms underlying Down syndrome associated arthritis (DA) and JIA – implications for therapeutic response’. There are limited studies to date examining the underlying mechanisms that drive disease in children with DA. Recent clinical research has raised awareness, leading to more timely diagnosis, treatment, better clinical outcomes and quality of life for DA children. Furthermore,  distinct immune cell responses in these children compared to that of JIA have been identified, possibly suggesting different approaches to treatment strategies. In particular, Sophie examined a specific cell type in the joint which is known to be one of the main invasive cell types in the joint. She demonstrated that combinations of specific pro-inflammatory cytokines (known to be increased in children with DA), induce a pathogenic invasive phenotype in the these cells, an effect that also involves changes in metabolism. These results, in parallel to immune cell analysis and synovial pathology will allow us to understand better the disease mechanisms and develop better diagnostic and therapeutic options, earlier in disease. This in turn should lead to significant improvements in clinical care and management of children with DA.

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