Myocarditis is an acute inflammatory heart disease that can progress to chronic cardiomyopathy and heart failure. Since there is no specific treatment recommendation available for myocarditis and subsequent inflammatory cardiomyopathy, there is an urgent need to dissect the pathological principles underlying cardiac inflammation and to target those molecular pathways that are at the core of the pathological process.
My recent research places cross-reactive CD4+ T cells at the center of inflammatory cardiomyopathy pathogenesis. The activation and sustenance of cardiotropic T cells is controlled in immune cell-nurturing niches that are generated by fibroblastic stromal cells through the provision of tissue cytokines of the TGF-beta superfamily. The overarching goal of this project is therefore to decipher the molecular pathways that govern the interaction of immune cells with stromal cells in the cardiac tissue through the combination of state-of-the-art pre-clinical models, novel methods from quantitative systems biology, functional validation by antibody blockade, and assessment of the translational relevance through the analysis of cardiac biopsies from human patients. The generation of antibodies that neutralize a distinct set of tissue cytokines or their inhibitors will not only serve as functional validation, but will open possibilities for future translational development. Moreover, the utilization of spatial transcriptomics for the analysis of human heart samples will open new avenues for innovative research both in immunology and in cardiology.
Overall, I expect that the planned research program will deliver (i) novel targets for the treatment of myocarditis and inflammatory cardiomyopathy, (ii) validated prototype antibodies that ameliorate cardiac inflammation through the manipulation of stromal cell-immune cell interaction, and (iii) a comprehensive analysis of the changes in the cellular and molecular landscape during cardiac inflammation in humans.
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