NMSS Partnership Targets Autoimmune Disease Research

Marta Figueiredo, PhD avatar

by Marta Figueiredo, PhD |

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The National Multiple Sclerosis Society has joined forces with the diabetes-focused JDRF and the Lupus Research Alliance to fund research looking at common underlying mechanisms of autoimmune disease.

Called “Decoding Immune-Mediated Diseases – Novel Approaches for Therapeutic Insights,” the new joint grant program is meant to stimulate innovative research that may help understand what these autoimmune diseases have in common, by identifying immune signatures, biomarkers, and therapeutic targets. This marks the first initiative of its kind between these three organizations.

“This partnership creates the opportunity to increase the pool of investigators working across autoimmune disease areas, exploring shared environmental and genetic risk factors and using comparative approaches to provide insights on the most promising pathways to target each disease,” Mark Allegretta, PhD, vice president of research at the National MS Society, said in a press release.

“We hope this research will lead to new strategies to regulate the immune system,” Allegretta added.

Sanjoy Dutta, PhD, vice president of research at JDRF also said that “understanding the commonalities between autoimmune diseases and how they affect the body can be the key to ultimately unlocking cures applicable to multiple communities.”

“JDRF is excited to partner with both the Lupus Research Alliance and the National MS Society to support this research and transform the lives of millions affected by these autoimmune and immune-mediated diseases,” Dutta added.

This year, the program will support eight projects from scientists at major academic centers around the world, with either up to $450,000 over two years or $225,000 over one year, depending on the projects’ scope. Each project will investigate potential common mechanisms behind the development of at least two of the three autoimmune diseases: multiple sclerosis (MS), type 1 diabetes, and lupus.

While MS mainly affects the nervous system and type 1 diabetes targets the pancreas, lupus can affect virtually any organ or tissue in the body.

Despite several differences between the more than 80 autoimmune diseases identified to date, they are all characterized by abnormal immune responses against the body’s own molecules, cells, and/or tissues, causing inflammation and damage.

The lack of knowledge of immune disease mechanisms, along with variability between patients with the same condition “remains a challenge towards achieving optimal therapies to effectively treat all subjects in a given indication,” the organizations stated on the grant program website.

“Decoding the mechanisms common to these three serious disorders of the immune system will help scientists to not only develop therapeutic targets, but also to identify which patients can most benefit from them,” said Teodora Staeva, PhD, scientific officer at the Lupus Research Alliance.

The awarded projects will focus on the identification of shared biological processes and immune pathways through cutting-edge technology that analyzes genetic, molecular and cellular data.

Machine learning, a form of artificial intelligence that uses algorithms to analyze data and make predictions, also will be used in an Austria-based project (the only one awarded outside the U.S.) to identify commonalities and differences in immune profiles between autoimmune diseases.

Some studies will look at specific immune cells, while others will adopt a broader approach. One project will assess potential blood biomarkers of what is happening at the site of damage. Another study will evaluate if and how the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes mononucleosis (so-called “kissing disease”), promotes autoimmune disease, particularly MS and lupus.

More information on each project and its recipient is available here.

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