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NIAMS Launches Multiple Projects in Autoimmunity

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By Press Release by NIAMS • • December 21, 1999

The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has awarded nearly $4 million for new projects on autoimmune diseases, conditions in which the body's immune cells mistakenly attack its own tissues and vital organs. The funds are part of a $30 million allocation from Congress to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to bolster research in autoimmunity.

The awards enhance the NIAMS' already strong commitment in this area, and involve the start-up of nine projects. These projects reflect the significant presence of the NIAMS in an NIH effort against some 80 serious, chronic, autoimmune illnesses involving almost every human organ system.

"Autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, alopecia areata, and many blistering skin diseases exact a huge toll in human suffering and economic costs," said NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D. "But we've recently witnessed exciting research advances in several of these, and we have every intention of pushing our knowledge base further."
To extend the edge of autoimmunity research, the following projects have been funded:

Pilot Trials on Innovative Therapies for Rheumatic and Skin Diseases

"Modulation of T-Cell Responses to Shared Epitope Peptides in Rheumatoid Arthritis" (University of California, San Diego). A multicenter clinical trial involving oral administration of a small peptide in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

"Multicenter Phase II Trial of Oral Type I Bovine Collagen in Scleroderma" (University of Tennessee, Knoxville). A second multicenter clinical trial, testing the efficacy of orally administering collagen peptides in patients with scleroderma.

Target Organ Damage in Autoimmune Diseases

"Characterizing Microfibril Abnormalities in Scleroderma" (University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston). A study of abnormalities in structure and organization in tissue fibers of people with scleroderma.

"Cytokine Regulation of RA Synoviocyte Phenotype" (Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City). A project looking at why certain anti-inflammatory signaling proteins do not reduce inflammation of the joint lining membrane in rheumatoid arthritis.

"Vasculopathy, Apoptosis, and Autoimmunity" (University of Pittsburgh). An investigation of the roles blood vessel malfunction, cell death and autoimmunity play in scleroderma.

"Growth Factor Responses in Rheumatoid Synovium" (Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn.). A study of mechanisms that lead to abnormal growth patterns in cells lining the joints of people with rheumatoid arthritis.
Autoimmune Rat Repository and Transgenic Resource. This central resource and development center for rat models of autoimmune disorders is located on the NIH campus but may be used by the entire United States research community.

NIAMS Data Registries

Research Registry for Neonatal Lupus (Hospital for Joint Diseases, New York, N.Y.). This registry will enhance the search for basic defects in neonatal lupus and seek to improve diagnosis, treatment and prevention methods. Issues involving fetal heart block and cutaneous manifestations of neonatal lupus will also be examined.

Research Registry for Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio). This registry focuses on multicase families with affected sibling pairs. A new major emphasis is a genome-wide search for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis susceptibility genes.

The NIAMS is also participating in an additional initiative, New Imaging Technologies for Autoimmune Diseases, through a project at Louisiana State University Medical Center in New Orleans involving in vivo imaging of tiny blood vessels in animal models of rheumatoid arthritis.

To increase collaboration and communication among organizations stimulating and supporting autoimmune research, an NIH Autoimmune Diseases Coordinating Committee was established in May 1998. The NIAMS and other NIH institutes are represented on the committee, along with other federal agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Veteran's Administration and several private organizations.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
(NIAMS) Press Release. December 21, 1999.

The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. For more information about NIAMS, call our information clearinghouse at (301) 495-4484 or visit the NIAMS web site at

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