Cornelia Weyand, MD, PhD

Study:  Small molecule therapeutics in Giant Cell Arteritis
Institution:  Division of Rheumatology, Stanford University School of Medicine
Award:  $50,000, one-year study

For the last 15 years, Cornelia Weyand’s research has focused on large vessel vasculitis with a special emphasis on giant cell arteritis (GCA), which is caused by immune cells that invade and attack arterial wall cells. With her latest project, she hopes to pave the way for introducing a new class of therapies.

“In this study we will examine how the immune cells are activated in the first place; how they respond to activation and how immune activation translates into the injury in the blood vessel,” Weyand explains. The study gives special attention to a new type of immuno-modulatory drugs, called the JAK inhibitors, which can suppress cellular activation. Experiments will explore the potential of such new inhibitors as a new treatment approach in GCA.

The new therapies will be tested in a model system created by grafting human arteries into a mouse model and infusing the blood cells from the patients into the mouse. “Through this system we can create ‘GCA in a dish’, with real patient cells and real human arteries,” she explains. “Doing so with the cells from a specific patient, we can test how this patient would react to the therapy.”

The VF grant will allow investigators to do a pilot study to create the necessary first data set that helps direct further research. “Support that comes through the Vasculitis Foundation is critical in securing that research programs can continue their work,” she concludes.