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JDRF, Lupus Research Alliance, and National MS Society Join Forces to Decode Common Mechanisms of Immune-Mediated Diseases

February 24, 2021

JDRF International, the Lupus Research Alliance and the National MS Society joined forces to accelerate research and discovery in autoimmunity and are proud to announce the recipients of their first joint grants. Called Decoding Immune-Mediated Diseases - Novel Approaches for Therapeutic Insights, the new grant program will support the research of eight grant recipients from major academic centers around the world. This marks the first time these three organizations are jointly funding research projects looking at common underlying disease mechanisms.
Autoimmune and immune-mediated diseases are chronic disorders in which the immune system produces a harmful response against its own cells, tissues and/or organs that results in inflammation and organ damage. According to the NIH, some 24 million Americans suffer from the more than 80 autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases target one area of the body; for instance, type 1 diabetes (T1D) affects the pancreas, while MS damages the nervous system. In contrast, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can affect the entire body, attacking virtually any organ or tissue.
Insufficient knowledge of how these diseases progress, as well as their heterogeneity is a common challenge among T1D, lupus and MS—that this grant program aims to overcome. Each study will investigate the immune system’s role in the development of lupus, T1D and/or MS. The 2021 awardees are examining possible common mechanisms that could cause or contribute to the development of at least two of the three autoimmune diseases. Ultimately, the researchers hope to find novel biological targets and strategies for therapies to treat the diseases.
Visit to learn more about each of the following grantees and their projects:
  •  Amit Bar-Or, M.D., University of Pennsylvania - "Linking multiple disease compartments in T1D and multiple sclerosis"
  •  Chris Cotsapas, Ph.D., Yale University - "Identification of pathogenic pathways through genomic engineering to identify shared genetic effects on people with T1D, SLE, and MS"  
  • Kevan Herold, M.D., Yale University - "Analysis of antigen specific T cells in response to immune therapies in MS and T1D" 
  • Thomas Pieber, M.D., University of Graz, Austria - "COMET common mechanisms in autoimmunity" 
  • William Robinson, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University - "Dissecting the genetics and host interactions of EBV-related autoimmunity" 
  • Ansuman Satpathy, M.D., Ph.D., Stanford University - "3D and single-cell epigenome technologies for autoimmune disease" 
  • Alexandra-Chloé Villani, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School - "Single-cell genomics dissection of common immune networks driving autoimmunity" 
  • Julie Zikherman, M.D., (with co-investigators Samuel Pleasure, M.D., Ph.D., Michael Wilson, M.D., Judith Ashouri, M.D., Joseph Derisi, Ph.D.), University of California, San Francisco - "NR4A family as markers and mediators of B cell tolerance across autoimmune diseases: From antigen discovery to treatment" 
Goals for this Funding Partnership
“This partnership creates the opportunity to increase the pool of investigators working across autoimmune disease areas, exploring shared environmental and genetic risk factors and using comparative approaches to provide insights on the most promising pathways to target each disease. We hope this research will lead to new strategies to regulate the immune system,” says Mark Allegretta, Ph.D., Vice President of Research at the National MS Society.
“Understanding the commonalities between autoimmune diseases and how they affect the body can be the key to ultimately unlocking cures applicable to multiple communities,” said Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., JDRF Vice President of Research. “JDRF is excited to partner with both the Lupus Research Alliance and the National MS Society to support this research and transform the lives of millions affected by these autoimmune and immune-mediated diseases.”
Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., LRA Chief Scientific Officer, notes, “Because the initiation and progression of autoimmune diseases are still poorly understood and their cure has yet to be identified, we joined with JDRF and NMSS to support projects that could provide broad insights into autoimmune diseases and identify pathways distinctly affected in each specific disease.” She adds, “Decoding the mechanisms common to these three serious disorders of the immune system will help scientists to not only develop therapeutic targets, but also to identify which patients can most benefit from them.”

About Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system. Currently there is no cure. Symptoms vary from person to person and may include disabling fatigue, mobility challenges, cognitive changes, and vision issues. An estimated 1 million people live with MS in the United States. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to minimize disability. Significant progress is being made to achieve a world free of MS.

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