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Interview with Ioana Alesutan

Im June Ioana Alesutan (on the right) and her team were awarded with the Paper of the Month.

What do you research? What is at the core of your research? What is the motivation behind your research?

The main focus of our research is medial vascular calcification. This is a relatively little understood process in which smooth vascular muscle cells lead to mineralization of the vessels. This calcification is associated with cardiovascular events and mortality, especially in patients with chronic renal failure and diabetes. There is currently no treatment that can stop or slow down this process. So far, very little is understood which signaling pathways in the smooth vascular muscle cells cause this calcification. We hope that a better understanding of these signalling pathways will enable us to identify new therapeutic targets and lay the foundation for the treatment of vascular calcification.

What is the central message of your publication and how does your study differ from the work of other scientists in this field?

In this study, we found that the kinase SGK1 is a key regulator of calcification in vascular muscle cells. This kinase activates the NF-kB signalling pathway and leads to the "reprogramming" of vascular muscle cells to an osteoblastic and chondroblastic phenotype. Thus, these cells mediate an active mineralization. Since this kinase does not mediate essential physiological effects but is an evolutionarily conserved mechanism for adaptation to low-salt situations, it is ideally suited as a therapeutic target.

Who did you collaborate with on this publication? Who were the key participants?

This work has been developed with numerous national and international cooperation partners, whose methodological expertise has made the intensive studies possible. Especially the translational cooperation with Prof. Dr. Gollasch from the Medical Department, Division of Nephrology and Internal Intensive Care Medicine at the Charité was groundbreaking for new methodical approaches.

What are the next steps for the project and what are the possible implications of your findings for patients?

Current studies are investigating this signaling pathway in other calcifying situations. In particular, studies are being conducted to investigate which stimuli activate this signaling pathway in order to lay the foundation for therapeutic use. This should pave the way for these findings to lead to a new treatment of patients.