Additional Autoimmunity Story Offered by AARDA
December 4, 2003
In a year that saw the outbreak of SARS and an increasing AIDS pandemic, Newsweek magazine has named a less well-covered health issue -- autoimmunity -- as one of the top 10 health stories of the year.
"The advances in autoimmune disease research are exciting, particularly because researchers are focusing more and more on autoimmunity itself as the underlying cause of these 80 seemingly unrelated diseases," explained Virginia T. Ladd, executive director of American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA).
Ladd said AARDA was gratified by this since the organization's mission is to bring an national focus to autoimmunity as 1) the underlying cause of all autoimmune diseases, and as such a category of disease, like cancer, and 2) a major women's health issue. In addition AARDA is dedicated to promoting a collaborative research effort in order to find better treatments and a cure for all autoimmune diseases.
One major piece of the autoimmunity story missing from the Newsweek article also occurred in 2003. Earlier in the year, the National Institutes of Health presented its first-ever national Autoimmune Disease Research Plan, which was unveiled at a Capitol Hill briefing in March by U.S. Senators Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-Del.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). Together, they detailed elements of the plan, which utilizes a comprehensive multi-disciplinary, multi-agency approach and calls on Congress to provide $450 million dollars annually to fund it.
The NIH plan is a landmark for autoimmune disease research. It marks the first national coordinated, collaborative effort to study the cause, incidence, diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune disease, as well as educate the medical community and general public. Simply it means that all federal agencies involved in autoimmune research must work together. The purpose of the briefing centered on educating Congress about the plan and the need to appropriate the full $450 million dollar budget requested.
"Autoimmune diseases strike some 50 million Americans, are one of the top ten leading causes of death in children and women age 65 and younger, and represent nearly $100 billion in annual direct health care costs. Their impact is on par with that of cancer and heart disease, and with this plan, that recognition has come," said AARDA's Ladd, who also served on the expert panel that developed and refined the plan. "Now it's time for us as a nation to commit the dollars that will allow for the full implementation of the research plan."
Created at the request of Congress as part of 2000's Children's Health Act, the NIH Autoimmune Disease Research Plan tackles autoimmunity from four key areas, including Burden of Autoimmune Diseases; Cause of Autoimmune Diseases; Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention; and,Training, Education and Information.
Autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, juvenile diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, lupus, Sjogren's disease and Graves' disease. Autoimmunity is the underlying cause of these diseases. It is the process whereby the immune system mistakenly recognizes the body's own proteins as foreign invaders and begins producing antibodies that attack healthy cells and tissues, causing a variety of diseases. Some 75 percent of the estimated 50 million Americans who suffer from these diseases are women.
For more information, please visit AARDA's Web site at http://www.aarda.org
or call 1-888-856-9433.
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