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New grant awards aim to prevent autoimmune diseases

SEATTLE (Sept. 11, 2012) - Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) recently received two major grant awards to explore how to regulate the immune system, as part of a nationwide collaborative program to prevent autoimmune diseases. The awards will provide BRI scientists with $4.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to discover molecular mechanisms and new therapy targets through in-depth studies of immune function in cells from research participants in the BRI autoimmunity biorepositories.

"We're committed to working with NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and the U01 Cooperative Study Group to identify and address key gaps in current research in autoimmunity prevention," said BRI Director Gerald Nepom, MD, PhD. "We're pleased that reviewers and funders of this program have confidence in BRI's ability to play a pivotal role in this initiative, and are looking forward to this important research collaboration."

BRI Associate Director Jane Buckner, MD, will lead a $2.6 million grant to understand how the immune system becomes unbalanced in individuals with autoimmune diseases in order to determine how the immune response might be manipulated to prevent autoimmunity in people.

"Our growing understanding of the genetics of autoimmune diseases has led us to study how alterations in several immune pathways, common to individuals with Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, contribute to a loss of immune balance," said Dr. Buckner. "If we can suppress the components that contribute to these diseases and enhance the correct immune system responses early in the diseases, we can work toward preventing them."

BRI Principal Investigator Paul Bollyky, MD, PhD, will head up a $2.1 million grant to look at how the extracellular matrix (the natural substance that holds cells together in every tissue) affects Type 1 diabetes. "We know little about how the tissue environment contributes to immune regulation," said Dr. Bollyky. "This knowledge is essential if we are to devise strategies that effectively suppress autoimmunity and prevent Type 1 diabetes." Together with his BRI collaborators on the grant, Thomas Wight, PhD, and Alice Long, PhD, Dr. Bollyky will test whether interventions directed at the extracellular matrix can prevent autoimmunity and promote immune tolerance.

Contact: Kay Branz
Immune Tolerance Network

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