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More MS news articles for January 2003

National Institutes of Health to Present Landmark Autoimmune Disease Research Plan to Congress

Marks Major Milestone for Women's Health

Jan. 10, 2003

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today released a comprehensive multi-disciplinary, multi-agency research plan for autoimmune disease that the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association (AARDA) is calling a major milestone for the 50 million Americans, primarily women, who suffer from these diseases.

Created at the request of Congress as part of 2000's Children's Health Act, NIH's Autoimmune Disease Research Plan is the nation's first-ever coordinated, collaborative effort to study the cause, incidence, diagnosis and treatment of autoimmune disease, as well as educate the medical community and general public.

"Autoimmunity and autoimmune diseases are finally getting the national attention they rightly deserve and that is welcome news for the millions of Americans who are suffering from these diseases," said Virginia Ladd, executive director, AARDA who served on the expert panel that developed and refined the plan. "However, our work is not finished yet.  Congress must now provide the necessary budget dollars that will allow for the full implementation of the research plan."

Ladd also pointed out the impact of the multi-disciplinary and multi- agency aspects of the plan. "Since autoimmune diseases cut across different medical specialties and research has been mostly disease-specific, the plan will create a level of collaboration and coordination never seen before, quickening our learning curve for these diseases."

The research plan, which NIH will formally presented to Congress after the summer recess, tackles autoimmunity from four key areas, including:

* Burden of Autoimmune Diseases - This encompasses the multiple ways in which autoimmune disease affects patients and their families, as well as the public-at-large. Specifically, studies will be undertaken that determine incidence (how quickly new cases occur relative to population size and passage of time); prevalence (the ratio of all existing cases of autoimmune disease within a population at a specified time to the number of persons in the population); morbidity (the stages of the disease and the severity and impact of the disease on the afflicted); and, mortality (number of deaths caused by autoimmune disease).

* Cause of Autoimmune Diseases - By studying the cause (etiology) of autoimmune diseases, new prevention strategies and more effective, targeted treatments can be developed.  Initially, researchers will work to identify genetic factors that influence autoimmune diseases; identify environmental factors and then determine the relationship between the environmental factors and autoimmunity; identify and characterize what happens to the immune system when autoimmune disease is present; and, develop animal models  for autoimmune diseases.

* Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention - While the 80-plus autoimmune diseases each have different natural histories and a wide range of symptoms, they all share the same underlying cause - autoimmunity. Therefore, all have the potential to respond to the same or similar treatments. With that in mind, the plan calls for the development of clinical research centers with the capacity to conduct multi- institutional, multi-disciplinary clinical studies; a screening process to identify individuals at risk for autoimmune diseases; public-private partnerships for support of clinical trials for new treatments; and carefully designed clinical trials to test the potential use of existing disease-specific FDA-approved drugs for treating other autoimmune diseases.

* Training, Education and Information - The successful translation of research advances into everyday medical applications will rely heavily on the training and education of the medical and scientific community, as well as the awareness level of the general public. According to the research plan, new opportunities must be identified and training and career development must be provided for new and established basic science and clinical investigators in autoimmune disease research. For the medical community, a wide range of education programs and continuing medical education materials about autoimmune diseases must be developed and promoted to health care professionals, updating them on the latest advances. For the general public, the plan calls for better doctor- patient communications, the establishment of a consolidated autoimmunity/autoimmune disease information web site and ongoing public education campaigns.

"The full implementation of the National Institute of Health's autoimmune research plan means that the pace of discovery will be hastened, potentially resulting in innovations in diagnosing, treating, curing and, perhaps one day, preventing autoimmune diseases," said Dr. Noel Rose, chair of AARDA's Scientific Advisory Committee and head of the Autoimmune Research Center at Johns Hopkins University.

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.

AARDA is the nation's only organization dedicated to bringing a national focus to autoimmunity as a category of disease and a major women's health issue, and promoting a collaborative research effort in order to find better treatments and a cure for all autoimmune diseases. For more information, please visit AARDA's web site at or call 1-888-856-9433.   SOURCE American Autoimmune Related Disease Association Web Site:

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