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BUSM awarded NIH grant to identify role of immune system in chronic inflammation, disease

(Boston) A team of researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) have been awarded a five-year, $7.7 million grant from the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) to explore how chronic inflammation can lead to systemic diseases. Caroline Genco, PhD, director of research in the section of infectious diseases and professor of medicine and microbiology at BUSM, is the principal investigator on the grant. She will lead a multidisciplinary research team as they study the cellular mechanisms responsible for immune system activation, which induces chronic inflammation following bacterial infection.

Inflammation, which is the body's biological response to infection, initiates the healing process. In most cases, infections with pathogens, including bacteria, result in attack by the immune system and clearance of the pathogen. However, certain types of bacteria persist in the body for long periods of time, causing sub acute chronic infections. During that time, they cause inflammation, which can lead to systemic diseases.

This study focuses on two pathogens, Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Porphyromanas gingivalis, which induce a chronic inflammatory response in the lungs and the mouth, respectively. The chronic inflammation can lead to atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, as a result of plaque buildup.

"The goal of this study is to understand how these pathogens persist and cause inflammation that can eventually lead to disease," said Genco. "The immune system exists to protect us, yet in some circumstances, it has harmful effects and contributes to systemic inflammatory diseases. We are investigating what goes awry in this complex system so that we can identify what mechanisms are responsible for these detrimental health outcomes."

Other researchers at BUSM involved include Robin Ingalls, MD, Frank Gibson, PhD, Guillermo Madico, MD, PhD, and Lee Wetzler, MD, all from the section of infectious diseases; Jane Freedman, MD, and Ellen Weinberg, PhD, of Boston Medical Center's section of cardiology and vascular medicine; James Hamilton, PhD, from the department of physiology & biophysics at BUSM and biomedical engineering at Boston University's College of Engineering; and Michael Lavalley, PhD, of Boston University's School of Public Health.


Contact: Jenny Eriksen Leary
Boston University Medical Center

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