The National Institutes of Health awarded grants worth more than $4 million to two OMRF scientists.
Patrick Gaffney, M.D., and Courtney Griffin, Ph.D., were each awarded five-year R01 grants to research genes related to lupus and vascular development, respectively.
After identifying two genes associated with lupus—a chronic autoimmune disease that affects an estimated 2 million Americans—Gaffney received a 5-year grant of $2.05 million to delve deeper into exactly how mutations in the genes affect immune system regulation.
“The information is already out there about what the genes do under normal conditions. What we’re interested in is looking at how the genes function with genetic alterations,” he said. “In some diseases, like sickle cell anemia, changing just one amino acid can make radical alterations. We think these changes will be more subtle, but still significant in the overall picture of lupus.”
In patients with lupus, the immune system becomes unbalanced and overactive, attacking not only invading viruses or bacteria, but also the body’s own tissues. Common symptoms include arthritis, sensitivity to light and inflammation around the lungs and heart. There is no known cure for the disease.
Lupus is a multi-genic disease, meaning several mutations in different genes add up to put patients on the path toward autoimmunity, he said.
“What we think happens in lupus, you have a whole collection of these small changes that, in total, acting together, make you susceptible to the disease,” he said.
Griffin’s new grant of $2.1 million over five years will fund research into how veins are made differently from arteries and the impact on lymphatic vascular development.
“You may assume that arteries, which take blood away from the heart, are identical to the veins that bring blood back to the heart,” she said. “While there are similarities, the differences between the two are critical for health.”
Of specific interest is a molecule called Coup-TF2, which plays a role in the altered formation of veins and can lead to problems including blood abnormally flowing from one system to another or bypassing tissues that need it.
“These awards provide funding for vital research, but they’re also proof that Drs. Griffin and Gaffney are at the top of their fields in this type of cutting-edge science,” said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D.