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NIH Funding $3.3M for Biomarker Research into Scleroderma

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Researchers at four universities led by the Boston University School of Medicine will use a five year, $3.3 million grant to build up core services for conducting biomarker-focused research into systemic sclerosis (SSc), also called scleroderma, a rare and complex rheumatic disease that can cause scarring and vascular disease in multiple organs.

Funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, the SSc project will involve researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and Dartmouth Medical School, as well as the BU School of Medicine.

The aim of the program is to address one of the impediments to developing treatments for the disease — the difficulty in predicting its onset or the progression of its major complications such as fibrotic skin disease, pulmonary arterial hypertension, and interstitial lung disease.

Biomarkers that would enable physicians to recognize these complications early on may enable development of more targeted therapies, as well as identifying patients who are at high risk in order to enroll them in therapeutic trials.

"These are game-changing grants for scleroderma research," John Varga, a professor of medicine and of dermatology at Northwestern University, said in a statement from the university last week. "They will greatly accelerate research into understanding fibrosis and its causes, and will move us toward personalized medicine for this complex disease."

Northwestern will serve as the leading proteomics research core center for the project, and UPMC investigators will create a lung pathology core center.

The UPMC group will generate lung tissue microarrays to provide a resource for SSc investigators, who will conduct high-throughput screening of proteins and mRNA in disease and control tissues, and it will provide comprehensive clinical information on patients, thus enabling microarray-based correlation studies.

"Empowered by a very large SSc clinical population, we propose careful clinical evaluations, coupled with robust molecular approaches to identify skin, serum and peripheral blood mononuclear cell disease biomarkers," explained principal investigator and BUSM Professor Robert Lafyatis said in an earlier statement.

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