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Scientists win $1.2 million grant to study environmental triggers of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis

Scripps Research Institute

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IMAGE: K. Michael Pollard is an associate professor of molecular medicine at the Scripps Research Institute. view more

Credit: Photo courtesy of the Scripps Research Institute.

LA JOLLA, CA - July 9, 2015- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 1.5 million Americans suffer from rheumatoid arthritis and 322,000 have lupus, a chronic and potentially life-threatening disease that can damage skin, joints and organs.

Now researchers from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have received a grant of more than $1.2 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' ViCTER (Virtual Consortium for Translational/Transdisciplinary Environmental Research) program to augment existing research into how environmental factors trigger such autoimmune diseases.

K. Michael Pollard, an associate professor of molecular medicine at TSRI, will lead the three-year project, which expands the scope of a currently funded $2.2 million grant from the agency. Dwight H. Kono, professor of immunology at TSRI, is a co-investigator on the project.

"We hope to have a better understanding of the mechanisms used to produce autoimmunity by different compounds," said Pollard, who emphasized the collaborative nature of the grant. "The ViCTER will allow us to bring experts from diverse fields together in a consortium and help advance our understanding of environmentally induced autoimmunity."

The team, which includes experts from the University of Montana and the University of Florida, will use mouse models to investigate how repeated exposure to environmental factors, including mercury, crystalline silica (from ground-up rock) and nanoparticles, can lead to autoimmune disease. While little is known about how exposure to mercury or nanoparticles might lead to autoimmunity, studies of populations of miners have shown that crystalline silica can cause autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

"More recent work suggests that mercury does have a role in autoimmune disease, but the severity of the disease is milder compared with crystalline silica," said Pollard. "We're looking at why there's this difference in response."

In addition, the ViCTER-funded work in the Pollard lab will focus on how several therapeutic approaches can be used to suppress autoimmunity caused by environmental factors.

The number of the grant is 3R01ES021464-03S1.

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