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EU Project Aims to Improve Diagnostics and Intervention Strategies

A new project funded by the European Commission (Horizon 2020) is devoted to the research of chronic autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and vasculitis and the development of individualised therapies for afflicted patients.  The international project “RELENT” is coordinated by Professor Dr. Renate Kain, Department of Pathology, MedUni Vienna, Austria.

RELENT.The objective of the project RELapses prevENTion in chronic autoimmune disease – common mechanisms and co-morbidities (“RELENT”) is the development of improved therapies for chronic autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and vasculitis.

The consortium is planning to research mechanisms common in these diseases which are responsible for the persistence and life-threatening developments of the diseases.  The results of the study are intended for clinical application as soon as possible in order to be able to help patients faster.  Nearly six million Euros has been awarded to the RELENT consortium for the next 4.5 years.

Which patients will develop a severe course of autoimmune diseases?

Autoimmune diseases affect approximately five percent of the population in industrialized countries.  In many cases, the disease has a mild progression, but they can also lead to a chronic and serious illness such as in the case of rheumatoid arthritis and other forms of arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), multiple sclerosis, systemic Lupus erythematosus and various forms of systemic vasculitis.

Typically, these diseases progress in episodes; which requires long-term treatment with anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive medications.  These medications may have severe side effects, including an increased susceptibility for infections, cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

“There is currently no means to distinguish at the outset those patients who will suffer from frequent relapses, and therefore need intensive early treatment, from those who do not.  Titrating the use of immunosuppression to the disease activity and developing novel treatment strategies consequently requires the application of precision medicine to autoimmunity – a concept already established in cancer treatment,” states Prof. Renate Kain, coordinator of the project.
In order to better understand the common mechanisms of these diseases, the RELENT consortium will jointly analyse data from a variety of measurements (clinical, serological, genetic, transcriptome) and thus develop new biomarkers for these diseases.  These should allow the tailoring of the most effective treatment to each patient with a chronic autoimmune disease.

On January 20, 2016, the project partners presented their scientific contributions at the Van Swieten Saal of the MedUni Vienna in a scientific symposium open to the public. The members of the consortium include:

MedUni Vienna (coordinator), University of Cambridge (UK), University Medical Centre Groningen (The Netherlands), Helmholtz-Zentrum München (Germany), the University Clinic of Bonn (Germany), Ludwig Maximilian University Munich (Germany), KTH Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden), Mayo Clinic (US), Monash University (Australia), EMC microcollections (Germany), Hycult Biotech (The Netherlands) and Phenocell (France).  Joyce Kullman, executive director of the Vasculitis Foundation, serves on the consortium representing patient advocacy groups.