VF Awards $150,000 in Research

January 2012:

The VF Board of Directors is pleased to announce the selection of three studies for funding through the VF Research Program. The studies will examine granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA, Wegener’s), Churg-Strauss Syndrome and giant cell arteritis.

The VF is the largest private funder of research on vasculitis and collaborates with researchers around the world to fund the most promising studies. The program is guided by the VF Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) which reviews, critiques and ranks the applications and provides guidance to the VF Board of Directors on the selection of studies to fund.

The VF Research Program is funded by donations, honors, memorials and special fundraising events.

New VF Grant Recipients

Here’s a quick look at the investigators and what their work means for vasculitis patients.
Christy Abele Grant

Grantee: Sharon Chung, MD, MAS, assistant adjunct professor, Division of Rheumatology, University of California, San Francisco

Award: $50,000 for one year

Topic: Exome sequencing in granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA, Wegener’s)

Sharon Chung became interested in researching vasculitis while caring for patients with GPA and other vasculitis diseases during her internal medicine residency at Johns Hopkins University. “I was fascinated by how these diseases could have so many different manifestations, and how the underlying trigger for these diseases was unknown,” she notes. That prompted her to study the genetics of the disease, to see if she can identify genes and genetic mutations that predispose individuals to developing GPA in an effort to better understand how the disease develops. “Identifying genes that are associated with GPA can reveal biologic pathways that are important in developing this disease, and those pathways may provide novel targets for less toxic treatments and better diagnostic tests,” Chung continues.

Her proposed project is an advancement over current genetic studies, since she will be focusing on rare genetic mutations instead of the common genetic mutations that are usually studied. The VF funding is crucial the undertaking, but its patient network also is critical. Genetic research like this is completely dependent on patients who are willing to participate in genetic studies and provide DNA samples. “When more individuals participate, more powerful studies can be conducted, and thus, we are more likely to identify the genes involved in this disease,” she explains. “Participation in genetic studies is an easy, low-risk way of helping move research forward for these diseases.”

Ginny Smith and Amerika Kies Grant

Grantee:  Shadi Swaidani, research associate, immunology, Cleveland Clinic Lerner Research Institute

Award: $50,000 for one year

Topic: Investigating the molecular mechanism for IL-25-driven Act1-dependent eosinophilic vasculitis

Little is known about what drives hypereosinophilia — an abnormal increase in white blood cells — in eosinophilic vasculitis in Churg-Strauss Syndrome (CSS). But Shadi Swaidani is hoping to change that. “One of my major research interests is to better understand the immunological and molecular pathways that lead to hypereosinophilic syndromes,” he says. Building on existing research from the Cleveland Clinic, he will investigate whether and how two particular proteins are involved in this form of vasculitis.

“This research project will help us understand the underlying causes and mechanisms that contribute to the development of eosinophilic vasculitis,” Swaidani explains. Of particular interest is the role of one protein, IL-25, in promoting eosinophilic vasculitis and its potential use as a therapeutic target for CSS. “Such understanding will hopefully bring a future where we can better prevent, diagnose, and treat this disease.”

By supporting his project at its early and preliminary phase, the VF grant will help Swaidani conduct the research, publish the study and hopefully expand into future research projects relating to eosinophilic vasculitis.

Says Swaidani, “Supporting basic research studies is crucial for driving new ideas and concepts to the medical field to improve the way we prevent, diagnose and treat human disease.”
Don E. Gebhart Grant

Grantee: Cornelia Weyand, professor of medicine, Stanford University School of Medicine

Award: $50,000 for one year

Topic: Small molecule therapeutics in Giant Cell Arteritis

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.

Vasculitis Foundation

The Vasculitis Foundation is the international organization for patients with vasculitis, their families, friends and the health care professionals who care for them.