Joseph Holoshitz, MD, and his laboratory have made significant advances in understanding a genetic risk factor of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This knowledge has grown into discoveries that could lead to new RA treatments in just a few years.
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Explore This IssueMarch 2016
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“There was a critical point in time when we had a big idea, but funding was a concern,” says Dr. Holoshitz, professor of internal medicine and associate chief of rheumatology research at the University of Michigan. “Without the [Rheumatology Research] Foundation’s funding, it is unclear to me if the big project would have been viable.”
In 2007, Dr. Holoshitz received an award from the Foundation for his research focused on RA. He used the funding to study the mechanistic basis of the association between RA and a certain sequence of genes called the shared epitope. Because the concept was so new to the scientific community, Dr. Holoshitz believes it likely would not have received funding from any other sponsor.
“The Foundation took a chance at letting us look at these out-of-the-box hypotheses,” says Dr. Holoshitz. “With that early data, we were able to establish the first set of findings that pushed us forward significantly in the years that followed.”
‘Without the Foundation’s funding, it is unclear to me if the big project would have been viable.’ —Dr. Holoshitz
Dr. Holoshitz’s laboratory eventually identified a new mechanism of action of the shared epitope, which is the single most significant genetic risk factor in RA. Today, Dr. Holoshitz is building on his initial Foundation-funded research. With the help of an Innovative Research Grant, he is studying new chemical compounds that potentially inhibit the shared epitope’s effect on RA patients and determine their effectiveness. He plans to begin clinical trials as early as 2020.
“In my opinion, if there will be solutions in biomedicine, they will likely come from these out-of-the-box ideas, rather than mainstream concepts that have been looked at for decades without significant progress,” says Dr. Holoshitz. “The Foundation plays a critical role in promoting those novel ideas.”