More than 50 million Americans are affected by an autoimmune disease, with women facing increased risks, reports University of Michigan in EurekAlert!

The University of Michigan has become a National Institutes of Health Autoimmunity Center of Excellence site, and have the opportunity to conduct extensive translational research in a clinical trial setting, supporting the effort to pursue targeted and personalized therapies.

Researchers Dinesh Khanna, MD, MSc, a professor of rheumatology and the director of the Michigan Medicine Scleroderma Program, as well as J. Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD and David Fox, MD, were awarded up to $10.2 million by the Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence to explore three new projects for potential autoimmune disease treatment development.

New Projects

While new treatments for autoimmune conditions may help patients with some of their symptoms, they often lead to impairment of normal immune system functions, leaving many patients more susceptible to infections. The research team will study how molecular targets affect autoimmune inflammation and damage, and how to avoid impairing the immune system’s ability to fight infection.

In the scleroderma project, Khanna will test the drug elotuzumab, already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of the blood cancer multiple myeloma, as a potential treatment for patients with scleroderma. “The trial design will recruit patients with early scleroderma who have elevated levels of abnormal lymphocytes, CD4+ cytotoxic T cells, in the blood,” Khanna says. “The project will be a safety trial, and we hope it can open a new treatment option for patients affected with scleroderma, a disease without FDA approved therapies.”

In the lupus project, Kahlenberg, an associate professor of rheumatology, will test the drug, tofacitinib, currently approved to treat rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, in cutaneous lupus.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues and organs. Those affected experience inflammation throughout the body, as well as fatigue.

She has previously studied a signaling protein tied to UV light sensitivity in patients with lupus. This project will build upon that work and provide further proof that blocking the protein’s pathway can provide protection from UV light. Kahlenberg will also study the role tofacitinib plays in the protein signaling. “We’re hoping to provide more targeted and less toxic therapies for our lupus patients,” she says.

In the final project, Fox will explore new molecular targets in a range of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, lupus, scleroderma and autoimmune eye diseases. “This project will be an opportunity to take new discoveries related to rheumatoid arthritis and apply this progress to the study of many other autoimmune diseases that affect multiple organs and tissues in our patients, with the ultimate goal of safer and more effective treatment,” Fox says.

Lead Research/Investigators

Dinesh Khanna, MD, MSc, a professor of rheumatology and the director of the Michigan Medicine Scleroderma Program

Michelle Kahlenberg, MD, PhD

David Fox, MD

Source: EurekAlert!

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