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The William Harvey Research Institute - Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Queen Mary researcher awarded funding for research project which aims to develop safer drugs for autoimmune diseases

Dr Trinidad Montero-Melendez from the William Harvey Research Institute has been awarded £72,633 from Versus Arthritis, The Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation and Connect Immune Research to develop new treatments to tackle the root of life-changing  autoimmune conditions.

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Ten new autoimmunity research projects are announced today by the British Society for Immunology, receiving nearly £1 million from the partnership of the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation and Connect Immune Research, a coalition of immune-related medical research charities.

In all autoimmune conditions, our immune systems attack healthy cells in the body, causing symptoms that have the potential to severely limit people’s lives. They affect an estimated four million people in the UK – equivalent to more than six per cent of the population – but are currently incurable. Examples include type 1 diabetes, coeliac disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis and alopecia. Although these conditions affect different parts of the body, we know from observing commonalities that they are somehow linked, and that better understanding this link will pave the way to improved treatments for all autoimmune conditions.

The ten new 12-month pilot projects will explore how to target pathways common to the development of multiple autoimmune diseases to increase our understanding and generate new treatments. The ultimate aim of this initiative is to deliver significant new investment to confront the UK’s high prevalence of autoimmunity and develop new treatments for multiple autoimmune conditions, faster.

The studies funded by this initiative will take a number of approaches to increase our understanding of autoimmunity and how to treat it including:

  • Examining the genetics of autoimmunity
  • Looking for potential new immunotherapy treatments for autoimmunity
  • Analysing how gut health might affect autoimmunity
  • Building knowledge of how different types of immune cell are involved in the development of autoimmune conditions

This first round of pilot grants aims to quickly develop proof of principle for potential new treatments for multiple autoimmune conditions by examining similarities between the different diseases. On completion, the most promising projects will be invited to apply for follow-on funding to take their work forward.

Dr Trinidad Montero-Melendez, Project lead and Lecturer in Molecular Pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London said: “Steroids are commonly used to treat autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus, due to their ability to suppress the immune system. Their use is limited to treat only acute flares of the disease, as they can trigger serious side effects in some people. This can impede their long-term use in chronic conditions which require life-long treatments". 

“Adrenocorticotropin hormone (ACTH) is a hormone that is well known for its anti-inflammatory effects. These effects are caused in part due to ACTH’s role in the release of another hormone called cortisol by activating the adrenal glands, and also via activating a separate pathway on immune cells in the inflamed tissues".  

“This project aims to build our knowledge of the properties of several new potential anti-inflammatory drugs, whose design is based on adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) hormone. We aim to assess if any of these new drugs have the potential to produce the same effectiveness as current steroid treatments in chronic autoimmune diseases but without the side effects”. 

Professor Yuti Chernajovsky, Co-founder and Trustee of the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation, said:  “The Chernajovsky Foundation is delighted to be funding these innovative translational research projects with our Connect Immune Research partners, which we hope will improve the lives of people living with autoimmune conditions. We look forward to seeing the projects develop as part of a new collaborative approach to research on autoimmunity.”

Dr Doug Brown, Chief Executive of the British Society for Immunology, said: “Immunology is a vital branch of medical science in which the UK leads the world with new discoveries. Connect Immune Research has joined forces with the Lorna and Yuti Chernajovsky Biomedical Research Foundation to fund these innovative projects that prioritise a collaborative, integrated approach to autoimmune research. By building on the UK’s existing strength in autoimmune research, we aim to bring together the best brains in immunology to study different autoimmune diseases together, driving forward our understanding of the underlying biological mechanisms and developing new treatments, which will ultimately transform the lives of people living with these conditions.” 

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