YOUNG RESEARCHER. The Swedish Research Council awarded starting grants in medicine and health to eight young researchers from the University of Gothenburg, giving them SEK 6 million each in research funding. The Institute of Medicine took the opportunity to ask one a few questions: postdoc Carmen Carciulo, whose research examines why women develop osteoarthritis more often than men.
“Thank you. The starting grant is important for a few reasons. It allows me to concentrate on my research and be less worried about what will happen in a few months. It also means I can hire a doctoral student and, eventually, a postdoc.”
“Yes, it’s about the interesting question of why women develop osteoarthritis more often than men. One of the reasons may be the difference between sex hormones, especially estrogen. The differences between the sexes in terms of osteoarthritis development become stark after menopause, when estrogen levels decrease dramatically. My hypothesis is that estrogen plays an important physiological role in suppressing joint inflammation in response to the mechanical load to which joints are exposed in daily activities.
When I worked as a postdoc, my main project was about osteoarthritis. Here at Ulrika Islander’s laboratory and at the Centre for Bone and Arthritis Research (CBAR), our research is focused mainly on the effects of sex hormones on inflammation and rheumatic diseases. When I had the opportunity to come to Gothenburg, I was able to combine my experience of osteoarthritis with CBAR’s expertise in sex hormones.
Part of the project is investigating the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of estrogen on joint inflammation and articular cartilage damage impacted by adenosine receptors, with the overarching goal of finding an effective treatment for osteoarthritis patients.”
You did your doctorate in your home country of Italy and then worked for five years as a postdoc at New York University, before coming to Gothenburg in 2019. How has the focus of your research changed over the years?
“When I was a postdoc in the United States, I had the opportunity to talk to orthopedic surgeons and rheumatologists. I learned that the most important thing for osteoarthritis patients is to alleviate the pain that diminishes their quality of life. What is new in my research is that I will study all aspects of osteoarthritis, including inflammation and pain sensitivity.
My new focus will probably influence which doctoral student I hire. It would be interesting to find someone who already has experience in pain assessment and can bring new ideas on how to study pain mechanisms in osteoarthritis mouse models. That could contribute a lot to the project.”
“Yes, despite the pandemic, it has been a good period for me professionally. In February, my mentor Ulrika Islander and I also received the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellowship from the European Commission. These two research grants mean that I have funding for my research through 2024 and better opportunities to apply for new funding.”
“It’s fun and always poses interesting challenges. For me, my colleagues and co-workers make a huge difference. We often have exciting and engaging discussions. At the same time, we help each other a lot, and this helps to make the job easier and much less stressful.”
TEXT: ANNA VÖRÖS