nvestigators with the National Institutes of Health have discovered the genomic switches of a blood cell key to regulating the human immune system. The findings, published in Nature today, open the door to new research and development in drugs and personalized medicine to help those with autoimmune disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease or rheumatoid arthritis.
The senior author of the paper, John J. OShea, M.D., is the scientific director at NIHs National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The lead author, Golnaz Vahedi, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. OSheas lab in the Molecular Immunology and Inflammation Branch. The study was performed in collaboration with investigators led by NIH Director, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., in the Medical Genomics and Metabolic Genetics Branch at the National Human Genome Research Institute.
Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks its own cells, causing inflammation. Different tissues are affected in different diseases, for example, the joints become swollen and inflamed in rheumatoid arthritis, and the brain and spinal cord are damaged in multiple sclerosis. The causes of these diseases are not well understood, but scientists believe that they have a genetic component because they often run in families.
We now know more about the genetics of autoimmune diseases, said NIAMS Director Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D. Knowledge of the genetic risk factors helps us assess a persons susceptibility to disease. With further research on the associated biological mechanisms, it could eventually enable physicians to tailor treatments to each individual.