Indiana CTSI-led consortium provides $1.9M for autoimmune disease research

February 12, 2015

The first grants from the Strategic Pharma-Academic Research Consortium for Translational Medicine will provide over $1.9 million to advance research on autoimmune disease at several medical research universities across the Midwest.

The research consortium, led by the Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute, will support research on multiple sclerosis, lupus, Crohn's disease and two chronic connective tissue disorders: dermatomyositis and scleroderma. The consortium will focus on other research areas in future grants.

Members of SPARC include four institutions supported by the National Institutes of Health Clinical and Translational Research Awards: Indiana CTSI, which includes Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame, and institutions at Northwestern University, The Ohio State University and Washington University in St. Louis.

The awards are supported by the consortium's industry partners: Eli Lilly and Co. and Takeda Pharmaceuticals International Inc.

"There's a true wealth of expertise on autoimmune disorders across our membership, but there really was not a large-scale group in the region focused on the topic until the creation of this consortium," said Anantha Shekhar, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Indiana CTSI, associate dean for translational research at the IU School of Medicine and associate vice president for university clinical affairs at IU. "We're eager to help these scientists advance their critical work on these diseases -- many of which are poorly understood despite their impact on millions in the U.S. and worldwide -- and hope they may quickly translate into meaningful advances in treatment and therapy."

The selected research teams, which were chosen by an independent governance council with equal representation for each member of the consortium, will receive up to $400,000 to advance their research. The consortium will support the funded research for two years. Award recipients are:

  • Anthony R. French, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics, pathology and immunology and biomedical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis, and collaborator Lauren M. Pachman, M.D., professor of pediatrics-rheumatology at Northwestern University, whose work will advance basic understanding about the root causes of juvenile dermatomyositis, the most common inflammatory muscle disease in children.
  • Gwendalyn Randolph, Ph.D., professor of pathology and immunology, immunobiology and internal medicine at Washington University in St. Louis, and collaborator Razvan Arsenescu, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of internal medicine at The Ohio State University, whose work will focus on intestinal fibrosis, a complication of Crohn's disease that often requires surgery. Crohn’s disease, a type of inflammatory bowel disease, is estimated to affect as many as 700,000 Americans.
  • Brad H. Rovin, M.D., professor of internal medicine and pathology at The Ohio State University, and collaborators David A. Flockhart, M.D., Ph.D., Harry and Edith Gladstein Professor of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, and Michael T. Eadon, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, both at the Indiana University School of Medicine, whose work will advance the ability to predict patients' response to treatment for kidney inflammation caused by lupus, an autoimmune disorder affecting 1.5 million Americans and millions more worldwide.
  • John Varga, M.D., John and Nancy Hughes Distinguished Professor of Rheumatology at Northwestern University, and collaborators John P. Atkinson, M.D., professor of internal medicine and molecular biology, and Elisha Roberson, Ph.D., instructor in medicine, both at Washington University in St. Louis, whose work will seek to advance basic science and identify potential future drug targets for scleroderma (also known as systemic sclerosis), a complex autoimmune disease with no currently approved therapy.
  • Yanjiao Zhou, Ph.D.,  instructor in medicine at Washington University  in St. Louis, and collaborators Laura Piccio, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology at Washington University  in St. Louis, and Amy Lovett-Racke, Ph.D., associate professor of microbial infection and immunology at The Ohio State University, whose work will investigate the role of gut bacteria in multiple sclerosis, a disease of the central nervous system that affects 2.3 million people worldwide.

Translational medicine is the art of turning results from medical research conducted in the lab and academic clinic into safe and innovative new treatments and therapies for patients in general medical practice. The Strategic Pharma-Academic Research Consortium for Translational Medicine unites the strengths of the public and private academic research sectors to tackle large-scale translational medicine projects that require multi-instructional, multi-expert collaborations. By connecting business and other CTSA-funded institutions across the region, SPARC creates a translational research pipeline across the Midwest. The creation of SPARC was supported in part by Biocrossroads, an Indianapolis-based organization that connects corporations, academic institutions and philanthropic organizations to advance the state's strengths in the life sciences.

The Indiana Clinical and Translational Sciences Institute is a statewide collaboration of Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame to facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries in the lab into new patient treatments in Indiana and beyond. It was established in 2008 with a Clinical and Translational Science Award from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the National Institutes of Health totaling $60 million (TL1TR001107, KL2TR001106 and UL1TR001108), with additional support from the state, the three member universities, and public and private partners. It is a member of the national network of over 60 CTSA-funded organizations across the country.

Dr. Shekhar is also Raymond E. Houk Professor of Psychiatry and professor of neurobiology and pharmacology and toxicology at the IU School of Medicine.