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Scripps Researchers Reap $2.3M to Study Biomarkers of Inflammatory Diseases

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Scientists at The Scripps Research Institute will use a $2.3 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences to study protein biomarkers that they may eventually use in tests to diagnose cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and colitis, TRSI said today.

The four-year research project will focus on biomarkers based on protein arginine deiminases (PADs), enzymes that participate in reactions that form the amino acid citrulline in proteins and can impact protein structure and function. Increased PAD activity has been linked to several inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease, but precisely how the citrullination process is involved is unknown.

One of these, PAD4, is known to be involved in the control of a number of physiological functions, such as gene transcription, apoptosis, and cell growth, but the roles other PADs play are not well understood, according to the research proposal.

TSRI Associate Professor Paul Thompson, who is leading the project, has developed a compound that inhibits citrullination and has been shown to alleviate the severity of rheumatoid arthritis, cancer, ulcerative colitis, atherosclerosis, lupus, and nerve damage.

"We've already identified a number of biomarkers for rheumatoid arthritis that we're in the process of validating," Thompson said in a statement. "The platform we are developing is faster and more versatile than existing technologies."

These biomarkers could be used to diagnose and monitor disease progression and remission and to develop tailored treatments for these diseases, TSRI said.

The research team also aims to gain a better understanding of how PAD activity is involved in modifying protein structure and function, and if it is "a common link among these disparate diseases," TSRI said. They also hope to increase knowledge about PAD biology in general, and to produce a suite of chemical probes for studying protein citrullination.

Once the investigators have identified the citrullinated biomarkers for diseases they are likely to use a multiplex testing format to distinguish between the various types and subtypes of these diseases, a TSRI spokesperson told GenomeWeb Daily News in an e-mail.