Developing the Next Generation of Medicine

SRUK co-funds a MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship to advance research into treatments for interstitial lung disease.

Developing the Next Generation

SRUK co-funds a MRC Clinical Research Training Fellowship to advance research into treatments for interstitial lung disease

Even as adults we still link Autumn with going ‘back to school’. This is no exception for Dr Nina Goldman, a clinician at the Royal Free Hospital, who started her PhD project in September 2021 which aims to develop a better understanding of how treatments work in scleroderma associated interstitial lung disease (SSc-ILD). It is hoped that her work will aid the development of strategies to assign those with SSc-ILD to more personalised treatments.

Nina will undertake her work through gaining a prestigious Clinical Research Training Fellowship from The Medical Research Council. This fellowship, which was co-funded by SRUK, offers three years of funding enabling clinicians, like Nina, to train in research. Schemes like these are vital to build vital clinician-researcher capacity retaining people within a particular clinical area which in turn contributes to better knowledge, treatment, and care for conditions like scleroderma.   

About Nina

Fascinated by rheumatology and respiratory medicine, Nina wanted to study both. Whilst working in the Middle East with Médecins Sans Frontières, she applied for this very competitive Medical Research Council Fellowship, which can be co-funded by charities like SRUK.

Luckily Nina managed to dodge the plethora of pandemic-related travel restrictions in early 2021 and got to complete her virtual interview in the familiar surroundings of her home in the UK as opposed to a hotel in the Middle East. Nina was successful in her application, securing from SRUK and the MRC the funding needed to research and train in the intersection of her interests; scleroderma associated interstitial lung disease (SSc-ILD).

Moving towards personalised medicine: Nina’s Project

Nina’s project titled Defining pathogenic B cell regulation and its role in scleroderma associated interstitial lung disease” will focus on studying B cells, antibody producing immune cells found in the blood and tissues of the body. A subset of these cells is believed to be implicated in causing lung fibrosis which leads to the development and worsening of ILD. Nina’s work will study B cells taken from the blood of patients receiving either rituximab or tocilizumab, two commonly used therapies for SSc-ILD, to identify ‘biomarkers’, molecules which indicate how a person is responding to these treatments. A better knowledge of these biomarkers could in the future allow patients with SSc-ILD to be identified and targeted to the treatment which will work best for them sooner.

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Fibrosis is a huge topic in medicine at the moment: it’s a universal pathway in many diseases, and scleroderma offers a way of potentially understanding it better.

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Dr Nina Goldman

As Nina says, interstitial lung disease and general fibrosis are associated with many medical conditions meaning that the findings from this research could have benefit other fields and patients in addition to those with scleroderma.

What does this mean for people with scleroderma?

Interstitial lung disease is the biggest cause of mortality in scleroderma: contributing to around 50% of deaths. Since the current treatments available for SSc-ILD are hugely limited, Nina hopes to gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding B-cells and the immune system in SSc-ILD; and to utilise this to improve targeted therapies.

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[Scleroderma is] such a debilitating illness. I think it’s key that we try to improve treatments, and keep researching it… There has been an improvement in treatment options over recent years, but there’s more we could do!

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Nina also spoke about the importance of the SRUK co-funded fellowship in allowing her to dedicate time and resources to this research.

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The grants and fellowships from MRC and SRUK allow doctors like me to develop our research skills so we can run more clinical trials in the future. I’ve been given the space to think clearly about SSc-ILD and my research. Alongside this, as a clinical researcher I still get to see patients in the clinic. I love knowing that I’m making an active difference: you can see treatments working, and I get to work out how!

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Your support enables research

Talking to Nina Goldman offered an insight into the importance of fellowships, which are essential in developing laboratory science skills and furthering medical training, in order specialise in a research area such as respiratory medicine or rheumatology.

Enabling clinicians to develop these skills can translate into clinical trials towards future treatments that could benefit many patients. Your continued support allows SRUK to fund such projects and further our understanding and ability to treat scleroderma.