Christopher Ritchlin, M.D., M.P.H., Professor and Chief of Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology in the Department of Medicine, has just been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to explore a promising biomarker of psoriatic arthritis (PsA) that may also be a good drug target.
In the US alone, approximately 650,000 people suffer from PsA, which occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own skin and joint cells. The result can mean enduring not only the painful, disfiguring skin plaques of psoriasis, but debilitating joint and tendon inflammation as well.
Nearly half of all PsA patients also experience erosion of the bone and permanent joint damage caused by overabundance of bone-chewing cells, called osteoclasts. In previous studies funded by an incubator grant from the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, Ritchlin and his collaborator, Minsoo Kim, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, began to shed light on how and why osteoclasts run amok in PsA.
In their new grant, Ritchlin and his collaborators plan to explore how a previously-identified protein called DC-STAMP fosters formation of osteoclasts and if DC-STAMP can be used to predict which PsA patients will respond to current therapies. They will also assess whether blocking DC-STAMP can reduce inflammation of joints and bone damage in PsA.
Ritchlin and Kim are using an innovative technique called optogenetics to activate DC-STAMP with light and observe what happens downstream and are the first to apply this technique to immunology/rheumatology research.
"I think our ability to do optogenetics and include it in the grant application made a huge difference," says Ritchlin. "The NIH really liked it. It is novel, innovative and we showed we could do it."
Initial results from the grant have highlighted the necessity of thorough investigations of disease mechanisms. While Ritchlin and his collaborators originally showed that DC-STAMP fosters early steps of osteoclast formation leading to bone erosion, new data suggests it may actually inhibit at later stages.
About the CTSI Incubator Program
The Incubator Program supports "super-pilot projects," two years in duration, that accelerate innovative scientific discovery in the life sciences and public health, leading to new independently funded research programs. Each award is funded at a maximum level of $125,000 per year for each of two years. Faculty from all University schools are eligible to apply. Click here to learn more about the program, and here to learn about current and past projects that have received the award.
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