Susan Schinke, MD

Study:  Disease-specific dysregulation of miRNA in Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis (GPA/Wegener’s)
Institution:  Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, The University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany
Award:  $50,000, one-year study

Schinke began researching vasculitis while in medical school. Her MD thesis studied a special subgroup of ANCA directed against BPI, bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein associated with ANCA and chronic inflammation. Despite decades of research, scientists still don’t know the causes of ANCA and vasculitis. That intrigued Schinke and inspired her to investigate in vasculitis the regulation of genetic code by microRNA (MiRNA), an aspect of research that emerged only recently.

MiRNA shows that the genome we are born with is not a fixed setting. Gene expression can be profoundly changed by regulatory processes such as miRNA,” she explains. “MiRNA are influenced by environmental factors and therefore might explain the development of autoimmunity better than genetic or epidemiological studies that until now have not been able to explain why vasculitis develops in some patients and not in others. I hope to find a distinct pattern revealing a specific dysregulation of miRNA that only occurs in GPA patients–and not in healthy people. Hopefully this will give a hint to what causes this granulomatous and necrotizing vasculitis.”

The VF grant will help Schinke quantify miRNA expression in a set of GPA tissue samples and sera. This is essential for further study and will be the basis for future development of miRNA- based therapeutic interventions.

“For young researchers with new ideas the VF grant allows us to transfer these ideas into practice without being established in the researcher community with a high-ranked publication,” Schinke says. “This is so essential in order to generate the first results further studies can be based on and research can continue.