February 13, 2001
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Summary: The National Multiple Sclerosis Society is collaborating with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) and other institutions on a first-ever initiative to fund research on "Sex-based Differences in the Immune Response." Together, these agencies could provide up to $20 million on this effort.
Background: Gender differences often are noted in MS: The disease is two to three times more common in women, and there are differences in immune response between men and women that appear to come into play in MS. In December 1996, the Society established a Task Force on Gender, MS and Autoimmunity. Based on the recommendations of this team of researchers, the Society targeted support of basic and clinical research in this area, and has also sought out collaborations with other funding agencies to increase gender-based research.
The NIH also had sponsored a meeting on Gender and Autoimmunity. Autoimmune diseases - in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues - include rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and many other diseases. MS is also thought to be autoimmune. All of these diseases disproportionately affect women. Many of them increase in frequency after puberty, suggesting a role for sex hormones in their pathogenesis. Studies in both humans and animals also suggest that genetic factors may contribute to gender differences in immune responses.
Now, the National MS Society, the NIAID, and several other NIH agencies are collaborating to increase research in this area by funding multi-year research projects that focus on this important area. The funding agencies will also host annual meetings of funded investigators to encourage cross-fertilization of ideas among scientists working in different fields.
Description: The National MS Society and NIAID are requesting research proposals from scientists to identify, characterize, and define sex-based differences in immune responses that may be important in autoimmune diseases including MS. The Society and NIAID will co-fund grants relevant to MS, but the program also will fund projects related to other autoimmune diseases. This program is designed to encourage scientists from various disciplines to collaborate, and for basic scientists to collaborate with clinical researchers. All research proposals will be peer reviewed.
Total funds available for the first year of support will be nearly $4.5 million. The National MS Society has leveraged its first-year support of $1 million such that NIAID and other NIH agencies will provide the remaining nearly $3.5 million. Over the course of this agreement, up to $20 million could be spent, of which the National MS Society plans to contribute up to $4 million. The total amount is contingent upon receipt of a sufficient number of applications of high scientific merit - and, where the Society is concerned, relevance to MS.
Conclusion: This collaboration, unprecedented in the history of the National MS Society, extends the reach of the Society's targeted research initiative on gender differences in MS by encouraging basic and clinical investigation of sex differences in the immune response in MS and related diseases; forging new collaborations to address existing gaps; providing wider visibility of the problem and of opportunities; and ensuring increased support for high quality and relevant research.
By promoting and funding selected innovative research programs aimed at understanding the mechanisms of gender differences in immune function, significant progress will be made toward developing new therapeutic strategies for multiple sclerosis.
-- Research Programs