The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a grant to OMRF to support one of only seven Autoimmune Disease Prevention Centers in the U.S.
The selection is accompanied by a $2 million, five-year grant to OMRF. Those funds will go to study the autoimmune disease lupus, a condition in which the body mistakenly turns its immune system against itself.
Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., will lead the research initiative, which will focus on identifying patients with the potential for developing autoimmune illnesses. The work could allow physicians to begin preventive efforts and treatment at earlier stages of the disease process, yielding better outcomes for patients.
“This project builds on the generosity of over 1,000 Oklahomans who donated blood samples to help us better understand how the immune system works,” said James, who holds the Lou C. Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “Their contributions helped us find people with autoantibodies—immune cells primed to turn against the body—but still showed no symptoms of disease.”
By understanding how those people remain healthy, James said that researchers could develop ways to keep patients who are susceptible to lupus or related disorders from becoming sick.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system confuses healthy cells with foreign substances, like viruses and bacteria, and attacks the body’s tissues and organs. The illness affects an estimated 2 million Americans, roughly 90 percent of whom are women.
“For years, we and collaborators from around the world have been successful at pinpointing and understanding the genetics that underlie these diseases,” said James, who heads the Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program at OMRF. “This research is a step toward using the information we’ve gathered to help people before they transition into disease.”
The grant will also allow OMRF scientists to examine familial bonds in autoimmune diseases. “If siblings both have the genetics that could lead to lupus, why does one stay healthy while the other has the disease?” James said.
The Autoimmune Disease Prevention Centers are a cooperative network of research centers that focus on transforming laboratory discoveries into treatments for autoimmune disease. “By integrating clinical and laboratory research, we can speed the process of delivering new therapies to the patients who need them most,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D.