New grant awards aim to prevent autoimmune diseases

September 11, 2012

SEATTLE - (Sept. 11, 2012) - Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) recently received two major grant awards to explore how to regulate the immune system, as part of a nationwide collaborative program to prevent autoimmune diseases. The awards will provide BRI scientists with $4.7 million from the National Institutes of Health to discover molecular mechanisms and new therapy targets through in-depth studies of immune function in cells from research participants in the BRI autoimmunity biorepositories.

"We're committed to working with NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) and the U01 Cooperative Study Group to identify and address key gaps in current research in autoimmunity prevention," said BRI Director Gerald Nepom, MD, PhD. "We're pleased that reviewers and funders of this program have confidence in BRI's ability to play a pivotal role in this initiative, and are looking forward to this important research collaboration."

BRI Associate Director Jane Buckner, MD, will lead a $2.6 million grant to understand how the immune system becomes unbalanced in individuals with autoimmune diseases in order to determine how the immune response might be manipulated to prevent autoimmunity in people.

"Our growing understanding of the genetics of autoimmune diseases has led us to study how alterations in several immune pathways, common to individuals with Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and Crohn's disease, contribute to a loss of immune balance," said Dr. Buckner. "If we can suppress the components that contribute to these diseases and enhance the correct immune system responses early in the diseases, we can work toward preventing them."

BRI Principal Investigator Paul Bollyky, MD, PhD, will head up a $2.1 million grant to look at how the extracellular matrix (the natural substance that holds cells together in every tissue) affects Type 1 diabetes. "We know little about how the tissue environment contributes to immune regulation," said Dr. Bollyky. "This knowledge is essential if we are to devise strategies that effectively suppress autoimmunity and prevent Type 1 diabetes." Together with his BRI collaborators on the grant, Thomas Wight, PhD, and Alice Long, PhD, Dr. Bollyky will test whether interventions directed at the extracellular matrix can prevent autoimmunity and promote immune tolerance.
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About Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason

Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), founded in 1956, is an international leader in immune system and autoimmune disease research, translating discoveries to real life applications. Autoimmune diseases happen when the immune system, designed to protect the body, attacks it instead. BRI is one of the few research institutes in the world dedicated to discovering causes and cures to eliminate autoimmune diseases such as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, arthritis and many others. Visit BenaroyaResearch.org or Facebook/BenaroyaResearch for more information about BRI, clinical studies and the more than 80 different types of autoimmune diseases.

BRI employs more than 250 scientists, physician researchers and staff with a research volume of more than $35 million in 2011, including grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Defense, JDRF, the American Heart Association and others.

Media Contact:

For more information, contact: Kay Branz, BRI Director of Communications at 206-342-6903.

Benaroya Research Institute

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