María D. Mayán

Founder, Head of the Research Group

María earned her bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy from the University of Santiago de Compostela (USC) in 2000 and her PhD from Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) in 2006, where she worked at the Center for Biological Research of CSIC (CIB) in the group led by Professor Bernardo Schvartzman. Before starting the PhD, she worked for 3 years in the group headed by Dr. Felix Camiña and Professor Santiago Rodriguez Segade at the University of Santiago de Compostela (1999-2002). She had two postdoctoral positions in London, at the Imperial College London and Clinical Sciences Centre (CSC) in groups headed by Professor Richard Festenstein and Professor Luis Aragon.

In March 2010, she joined the INIBIC A Coruña as a junior research group leader within the Division of Rheumatology headed by Dr. Francisco Blanco. María D. Mayán is currently a research group leader (CellCOM research group, INIBIC).

In these last years her research group has obtained novel results that represent a breakthrough discovery, demonstrating that chondrocytes in cartilage are physically connected through long cytoplasmic projections and that cell-cell communication occurs through voltage-dependent gap junction channels formed of Cx43, which have an additional key metabolic function. The demonstration of this functional connection provides the basis for understanding homeostatic mechanisms and tissue regeneration within cartilage.

Cartilage breakdown is a hallmark of OA. Despite the great impact in terms of the numbers of publications and research groups studying OA, the primary cause of the disease has not yet been described. In osteoarthritic chondrocytes changes in protein synthesis (anabolic/catabolic processes) are accompanied by phenotypic changes and moderate levels of cell proliferation. Over the past few years, work from her laboratory has led to several exciting discoveries suggesting that Cx43 plays active roles in different biological processes such as chondrocyte cell proliferation, metabolism and cell communication. All of these linked processes are essential for the maintenance of normal chondrocyte phenotype and cartilage matrix synthesis during normal and pathological conditions that require cartilage matrix regeneration or repair. The results obtained by her research group encouraged them to develop different projects to study the functions of connexins in normal cartilage and cartilage obtained from patients with osteoarthritis to identify alterations that could explain the degeneration of the extracellular matrix observed in patients with osteoarthritis. Following the overall approach and methodology design for these studies they expected to find an effective therapeutic target for osteoarthritis.

Their results were very well received at several international conferences (selected for oral presentation or keynote speaker). Dr. Mayán’s work was awarded the Price on the category of Arthritis and on the category of Basic Science giving annually to members of the Spanish Society of Rheumatology (SER) who are researchers of meritorious scientific papers, on the basis of their contribution to the understanding of the cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in the development of arthritis and the discovery of novel therapies (Arthritis category) and to the understanding of the joint physiology and pathophysiology of rheumatic diseases (Basic Science category).

Connexins are integral membrane proteins that form plasma membrane channels, allowing cell-matrix and cell to cell communication. Initially described in joining excitable cells (nerve and muscle), gap junctions (GJs) are found joining virtually all cells in solid tissues and are essential for the functional co-ordination of organs by enabling direct transfer of small signalling molecules, metabolites, ions, and electrical signals. Several studies have revealed diverse channel-independent functions of Cxs, including control of cell growth and tumorigenicity. In fact some reports have demonstrated that Cx26 and Cx43 can act as a tumor suppressor in melanoma and breast cancer tumors. However, the role of connexins in mediating metastasis remains controversial. The myriad roles of Cx43 and its implication in the development of diseases such as cancer, osteoarthritis or psoriasis have rise to many novel questions.

The group of Dr. Mayán is focused on understanding the functions of connexins, in particular Cx26 and Cx43 in cartilage, skin and breast in order to understand the pathophysiology of connexin-related disorders and to find new therapeutic targets to treat diseases such as osteoarthritis or melanoma. Her research group has become a worldwide leading expert in Cx43 functions.

This last year her group has already obtained promising results in melanoma and skin wound healing in patients under breast cancer radiation and chemotherapy. The results obtained in the next years in healthy and diseased tissues will probably have a wide impact in different fields. The molecular methods and results obtained will also be applicable in order to improve current clinical prognostic and diagnostic methods.

For the design, synthesis and development of new molecules Dr. Mayán has already started new collaborations with several companies and research groups of the Computational and Chemical Biology field in order to design molecules that modulate and/or restore the activity of Cx43.

In order to develop novel functional molecules and build more fruitful collaborations with Chemical Biology Research Groups, She was de developer of a new Scientific Group inside The Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM). This Scientific Group will collaborate with the Chemical Biology Group from Spanish Royal Society of Chemistry (RSEQ). Dr. Mayán and Sonsoles Sanmartin (CIB-CSIC) are the coordinators of this group.

María D. Mayán has obtained 6 research grants from Sociedad Española de Reumatología (SER 2013), Sociedad Española de Investigación Ósea y del Metabolismo Mineral (SEIOMM 2016), from Instituto de Salud Carlos III (PI13/00591 and PI16/00035), from FECYT (Plataforma Precipita 2015-000139. Ministerio de Economia y Competitividad) and from Xunta de Galicia (Co-IP AGRUP2015/05). She has published 10 reports as corresponding author, has 4 manuscripts in preparation and 3 patents on course. They got a US patent approval for the treatment of arthritis.

She is regular member of eight scientific societies and organizer of a number of international and national workshops and courses. She is actively involved in a number of European research projects in the Horizon 2020. She acts as peer reviewers of many scientific journals and as an evaluator of grant applications for national and international research agencies. She participated in several events on scientific divulgation. So far, she has supervised five research master’s students, six PhD students and one postdoctoral fellow. Her group is collaborating with several international research groups. She is currently involved in a COST action and several grants that were recently presented to the Framework of Horizon 2020.