URMC gets $10 million to tackle autoimmune diseases

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Jennifer Anolik M.D., professor of allergy/immunology and rheumatology at URMC, leadisthe rheumatoid arthritis team. (Photo courtesy of URMC)

The University of Rochester Medical Center will receive $10 million in funds from the National Institutes of Health to tackle complex autoimmune diseases using new approaches.

The five-year grant comes as URMC joins the Accelerating Medicines Partnership: Autoimmune and Immune-Mediated Diseases program, a group of researchers at universities and hospitals in the United States and the United Kingdom studying biological factors that produce inflammation and autoimmune diseases, officials say. AMP AIM is a collaboration between the NIH, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pharmaceutical companies and nonprofits such as the Arthritis Foundation, the Lupus Foundation of America, the Lupus Research Alliance, the National Psoriasis Foundation, and the Sjögren’s Foundation.

Launched late last year, the program has four disease teams researching rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis, and Sjögren’s disease, respectively. The grants—a total of $58.5 million for institutions across the network—aim to further develop gene-level technologies and apply them to research, centered on patients with these conditions.

“By identifying and characterizing the molecular and cellular-level pathways and interactions that are shared among many autoimmune conditions—as well as the pathways and interactions that are unique to specific diseases—AMP AIM scientists could open avenues for developing new therapies and diagnostic tools,” NIH says.

At URMC, leading the rheumatoid arthritis team is Jennifer Anolik M.D., professor of allergy/immunology and rheumatology. Christopher Ritchlin M.D. will head the psoriasis/psoriatic arthritis team. In addition to her work on rheumatoid arthritis, Anolik is a co-principal investigator on a technology grant with Harvard University. She is charged with the lab work on Sjögren’s at URMC and is co-investigator with New York University on the lupus team.

The AMP AIM program broadens the Accelerating Medicines Partnership in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Lupus Network, to which URMC was named a member in 2014. That group, including Anolik, focused on examining the causes behind rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, using single-cell analytics with the goal of developing more targeted treatments. The project yielded 23 publications from 2015-2022, according to the NIH RePORT.

Autoimmune diseases have become increasingly common over the years, affecting more than 23.5 million people in the United States, NIH says. Complex conditions, these diseases affect individuals differently, given unique genetics and immune systems. At the same time autoimmune diseases have similarities—from inflammatory pathways to responses to therapies. Officials hope that AMP AIM researchers could identify and characterize common molecular and cellular-level pathways among these diseases and find interactions and pathways that are disease-specific.

Using a collaborative approach to tackle diseases is important, Anolik says.

“Relationships will help solve problems in all diseases,” she says. “The collaboration of multiple departments within URMC is key but combining research with the other institutions in the AMP AIM network is critical as well, because of the value of input from different places across the country, even the world, where expertise, environmental factors and patient populations may be different.” 

The AMP AIM network includes Hospital for Special Surgery, University of Colorado, New York University, Columbia University, University of Michigan, Harvard, University of California at San Francisco and San Diego, Northwestern University, University of Alabama at Birmingham, and academic partners at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom and the University of Queensland in Australia.  

Justin O’Connor is a sophomore at the University of Rochester. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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