Celebrating Dr. Valentina Schiano's Postdoctoral Grant Award from the Alpha-1 Foundation

Apr 27, 2024
Celebrating Dr. Valentina Schiano's Postdoctoral Grant Award from the Alpha-1 Foundation

The Alpha-1 Foundation, a leading organization in the fight against Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), has awarded Dr. Valentina Schiano . a prestigious postdoctoral grant. Dr. Schiano's groundbreaking research aims to provide new insights into AATD-associated liver disease, a significant genetic contributor to liver disorders impacting patients with the Z allele of the AAT gene (ATZ).

Understanding AATD and Its Impact

AATD leads to a range of liver conditions, including fibrosis, hepatic failure, chronic hepatitis, and an increased risk of hepatocellular carcinoma. A striking feature of AATD is its highly variable clinical manifestations among patients. The reasons why only a few patients experience severe liver disease remain a puzzle. The hypothesis suggests a strong link between the accumulation of ATZ, steatosis, and metabolic syndrome, indicating that environmental factors significantly influence liver injury's development or prevention.

The Absence of Effective Drug-Based Therapies

Currently, no drug-based therapies exist for treating AATD-associated liver disease. This makes the development of strategies to slow disease progression and reduce the need for liver transplantation crucial.

Dr. Schiano's Innovative Research Approach

Dr. Schiano's research focuses on the abnormal accumulation of mutated ATZ in the liver, which triggers a persistent inflammatory state, activates hepatic stellate cells (HSCs), and attracts macrophages. These macrophages exacerbate liver pathology by secreting proinflammatory cytokines, positioning them as potential therapeutic targets.

A notable aspect of her study involves exploring natural resources for new bioactive molecules with pharmacological benefits. Among these, alkaloids have shown potential as alternative treatments for liver diseases due to their ability to modulate inflammatory processes, oxidative stress, and autophagy. 

Goals and Expectations of the Study

The primary goal of Dr. Schiano's research is to characterize the role of macrophages in the liver pathogenesis of AATD and investigate  drugs' potential therapeutic effects in ameliorating AATD-related liver symptoms. This includes modulation of the inflammatory response, reduction in fibrosis, and improvements in lipid metabolism and the redox state.

The outcomes of this study could pave the way for novel strategies and therapeutic targets that are effective against AATD pathophysiology. Furthermore, it may open avenues for using natural compounds as food additives to improve symptoms and slow disease progression in patients.

A Step Forward in AATD Research

The grant awarded to Dr. Schiano by the Alpha-1 Foundation not only recognizes her innovative approach to addressing a critical gap in AATD treatment but also underscores the foundation's commitment to supporting research that may lead to significant health outcomes. Her work promises to contribute valuable knowledge to the field and offer hope to those affected by this challenging condition