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We welcome Adrien Hallou who has joined the Kennedy Institute as a new Principal Investigator. Adrien will be establishing his lab to better understand the role of mechanical forces on cell fate decisions and tissue dynamics in inflammatory diseases, with a particular focus on inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis or atopic dermatitis.

Adrien Hallou

Adrien recently joined the Kennedy Institute as a Kennedy Trust for Rheumatology (KTRR) Group Leader in Tissue Biology (Innovation Investigator Track), where his interdisciplinary lab will be affiliated with the Tissue Biology and Data Science platforms.

Originally from Montpellier in the south of France, Adrien trained as a physicist and chemist at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris before developing his interest in quantitative approaches to biological systems during his MPhil and PhD at the University of Cambridge.

He was subsequently a Herchel Smith Research Fellow in biological sciences in the group of Professor Ben Simons at the Wellcome/CRUK Gurdon Institute where is work focused on developing new computational and experimental approaches to understand the role of tissue mechanics in cell fate decisions in development, homeostasis and tumourigenesis.

'What I'm interested in, generally speaking, is using the tools and concepts from physics and mathematics to answer biological questions which are relevant to biologist and physicians,' he said.

At the Kennedy Adrien is building an interdisciplinary research group to explore the role of cell and tissue mechanics in cell fate decision and tissue dynamics. 'If you take any cell in a tissue, it is permanently faced with a variety of choices like, "Should I divide or not divide?", or "Stay the same cell type or transform into another?" These are called cell fate decisions. These have a profound impact on tissue dynamics at homeostasis and in disease because a tissue is more than a simple collection of individual cells, it is a tightly knit community where all cells must coordinate their individual cell fate decision to ensure the integrity and homeostasis of the tissue.'

Cell fate decisions may be in response to various biochemical signals either endogenous, such cytokines or growth factors, or from the environment, for example, small molecules generated by pathogens. But cells also respond to mechanical signals and forces that can stretch and compress them. Quite interestingly, a number of inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis develop preferentially in regions where the tissues are under constant mechanical load such as the extensor regions of the joints. And it's this that Adrien wants to understand.

'To do this I will use a new approach that I developed with colleagues and is called spatial mechano-genomics. Combining spatial transcriptomics, spatial proteomics, and spatial mechanical characterisation of tissues at single cell resolution we will be able pinpoint the particular genes which are up- or down- regulated by a given cell in the tissue and in future target those involved in inflammatory diseases.'

Tonia Vincent, Professor of Musculoskeletal Biology and lead of the Tissue Biology platform at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, said: 'We are delighted to welcome Adrien to the Kennedy Institute as an Innovator Track PI associated with the Tissue Biology platform. He plans to use an innovative multidisciplinary approach to address how cells make decisions about their fate, incorporating in depth molecular analysis with tissue biomechanics. These approaches are highly relevant to musculoskeletal tissues and are likely to be very valuable to other researchers in the Institute. We are very much looking forward to working with him.'

Adrien is building expertise in his team will soon recruit a postdoc, a research assistant, and PhD students to further develop innovative approaches. 'The Kennedy Institute is the perfect place to develop such an interdisciplinary research program ,' he said. 'It is exceptional in the UK and international landscape for its platform structure, and one of the few places in the world where I could access instruments and technologies such as spatial transcriptomics and proteomics, alongside expertise in tissue and inflammation biology.'

Professor Irina Udalova, Professor of Molecular Immunology and Lead of the Data Science Platform at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology said: 'Having Adrien contributing to both the Tissue Biology platform development and furthering the Data Science Platform strategic area of spatial omic analyses, will open the new chapter in the Institute cutting edge research programme and lead to an even better integration between the two platforms. We are thrilled with this unique and highly sought-after appointment.'