Five Within Our Reach science investigators provided overviews and updates of their RA research projects to the newly formed Within Our Reach advisory board at its inaugural meeting, held November 8, 2007.
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The meeting gave advisory board members an opportunity to interact with these award recipients, seeing just how their donor dollars have been used and appreciating the impact of financial support from the Within Our Reach campaign. Here are some highlights from the recipients’ presentations.
- Joan M. Bathon, MD, professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center in Baltimore, discussed her research on rheumatoid arthritis and body composition:
RA is highly inflammatory chronic disease that significantly diminishes physical function and causes premature mortality, primarily through accelerated cardiovascular disease. It has been shown that body composition is adversely affected in RA, as reflected by a reduction in lean (muscle) mass and in an increase in fat mass. Fat itself is a potent source of proinflammatory cytokines and adipokines, and increased fat mass is associated with insulin resistance and cardiovascular events in the general population.
Dr. Bathon’s study will lay the groundwork for clinical recommendations and interventions to identify and reverse adverse body composition, and will set the stage for clinical trials to investigate the effect of modifying body composition on morbidity and mortality in RA.
- Gary S. Firestein, MD, professor of medicine; chief of rheumatology, allergy, and immunology; and director of the Clinical Investigation Institute at the University of California, San Diego, School of Medicine, provided updates on his research on neural regulation of synovial inflammation:
Many of the therapies currently available for RA focus on the role of the immune system and its regulation of synovial inflammation and joint destruction. Dr. Firestein’s lab has discovered a novel pathway that allows the central nervous system to communicate with the immune system and decrease joint inflammation and destruction. His recent studies suggest that blocking a specific protein kinase in the central nervous system may enable regulation of the vagus nerve and release of certain acetylcholine receptors, which in turn can limit tumor necrosis factor (TNF) production and inflammation. If this hypothesis is correct, a new class of agents could be developed to regulate functions in the spinal cord and brain to decrease joint inflammation and joint destruction.
- Antony Rosen, MD, Mary Betty Stevens professor of medicine, professor of cell biology and pathology, and director of the division of rheumatology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, discussed his research on anti-PADI4 immune responses in RA:
Recent discoveries have provided important new therapies for RA by identifying novel pathways that drive disease and generate tissue damage. This study will focus on an important and previously unrecognized immune response in RA. PADI4 is one of the major proteins that create other common autoantigens in RA. Dr. Rosen hopes to define the use of new blood tests to monitor disease activity and outcome and investigate why the disease-associated form of PADI4 is chosen for immune attack. This information may help to define and monitor a critical event occurring in early RA that causes the disease to amplify.
- Cornelia M. Weyand, MD, PhD, David Lowance professor of medicine and director of the Lowance Center for Human Immunology at Emory University in Atlanta, discussed her research on defects of hematopoietic stem cell function in RA:
Although our ability to treat RA with potent antiinflammatory medications has increased enormously, the cause of this disabling syndrome remains unresolved. Dr. Weyand’s study builds on preliminary data, which suggest that hematopoetic precursors cells are defective in frequency and function in most RA patients. She believes this identifies bone marrow as the primary site of RA pathology. Her research will examine precursor cell function in RA and focus on how these cells engraft and build the different types of blood and immune cells.