University of Dundee

Fellowship to boost arthritis research

21 Apr 2014

Dr Kris Clark, of the University of Dundee, has been awarded a prestigious fellowship from Arthritis Research UK that will support his groundbreaking work developing new treatments for inflammatory arthritis over the next five years.

The career development fellowship provides £400,000 of funding which will allow Dr Clark to establish his first independent laboratory within the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit within the College of Life Sciences at Dundee.

Dr Clark’s research aims to focusses on the signaling pathways controlling the resolution of inflammation.  Inflammatory arthritis, of which rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form, is a serious auto-immune condition leading to painful, swollen joints,  affecting one per cent of adults.

As a senior postdoctoral researcher in Sir Philip Cohen’s lab, Dr Clark discovered two novel mechanisms that limit the inflammatory response, for which he received an Early Career Research Award from the Biochemical Society in 2013.

Most recently he made a major breakthrough by identifying a key role for the SIK sub-family of protein kinases in helping control inflammation, and it is this aspect of his research that Dr Clark will focus on as an Independent Investigator.

“I am very grateful to Arthritis Research UK for providing the funding necessary to establish my own research team in Dundee,” said Dr Clark. “The generous funding will allow my group to tackle the challenge of identifying new therapeutic approaches for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

“Most current therapies block the actions of toxic, pro-inflammatory molecules, but drugs that also enhance the production of beneficial anti-inflammatory molecules to stop inflammation and repair the damaged tissue could have important advantages over current treatments.”

Dr Clark’s lab will aim to understand how the function of cells of our immune system called macrophages is controlled in the body and how developing drugs that interfere with these processes could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and related human diseases.

The research programme is based on his recent discovery that drug-like molecules that block enzymes called SIKs generate a macrophage population that stops inflammation and drives tissue repair.

Dr Clark will now set out to establish how the SIKs control macrophage behavior and, in collaboration with Professor Iain McInnes at the University of Glasgow, evaluate whether drugs that switch off these enzymes are likely to improve the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.

Professor Dario Alessi, Director of the MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, commented, “This is a tremendous accolade for Kris. The award of this highly sought after fellowship will enable Kris to develop his research into uncovering the roles that the SIK enzymes play in mediating autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

“This research is vital, as Kris’s data indicates that if drugs could be developed that acted on SIKs, this could lead to new improved treatments for autoimmune conditions. One of the main goals of Kris’s work will be to work with pharmaceutical companies to try to generate new autoimmune therapies by developing drugs that act on SIKs.”

Dr Clark was born and raised in Montreal, Canada where he obtained a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University. After carrying out several short research projects in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, Dr Clark worked on the mechanisms that regulate the adhesion of cancer cells at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands for which he received his PhD degree in 2007.

During his PhD, Dr Clark obtained a FEBS Short-Term Fellowship to visit the MRC Protein Phosphorylation Unit in March 2006 to map phosphorylation sites on the proteins he was studying. This visit inspired him to refocus his research to investigate the role of protein phosphorylation in innate immunity. He returned to the MRC-PPU in May 2007 to join Philip Cohen’s lab after winning a Long-Term Fellowship from the European Molecular Biology Organization.