Research Program

The best way to help people living with scleroderma is to fund the most promising research aimed at improved therapies and a cure.

Research is the cornerstone of the Scleroderma Research Foundation’s existence. Only from continued investment in top quality medical research will discoveries be made to help people living with scleroderma and improve their quality of life. To that end, we press forward with finding, funding and facilitating the most promising research projects at institutions around the world.

The Scleroderma Research Foundation (SRF) funds research aimed at understanding scleroderma pathogenesis (disease development), identifying markers for disease progression, developing new and more relevant animal models for scleroderma and developing new therapies. Through generous donations, the SRF awards research grants totaling more than $1,000,000 annually and is the largest nonprofit source of funds for scleroderma research.

Our core projects are aimed at understanding how the immune system and vasculature malfunction, how fibrosis begins and progresses as well as the interrelationships among these facets of the disease. Research relating to disease mechanisms provides a basis for identifying new therapeutic targets and the SRF actively promotes the exploration of new therapies.

The Foundation continues to focus significant energy on developing animal models that mimic aspects of scleroderma. These models will allow researchers to ask questions that cannot be asked in human studies and will complement experiments done with human tissue. Additionally, the SRF funds research aimed at identifying scleroderma biomarkers. Effective biomarkers could be used for early diagnosis, predicting and monitoring disease progression and assessing response to therapies.

The Scleroderma Research Foundation is dedicated to fostering the creation and continued success of Scleroderma Clinical Centers of Excellence. At these Centers, physicians representing many different specialties, such as rheumatology, pulmonology, cardiology, gastroenterology and dermatology are dedicated to clinical research and the care of scleroderma patients. Patients receive integrated care at the Centers and because all of the specialists are present and work closely together, standards of scleroderma care can be advanced. The Centers are also critical for training the next generation of scleroderma physicians and clinical investigators. Physicians and clinical investigators at the Centers play an integral role in other research projects funded by the SRF by providing vital clinical expertise.

With the expert guidance of our esteemed Scientific Advisory Board, our research projects are evaluated annually at the SRF Scientific Workshop, where intensive review and discussion of the next critical steps take place. The workshop is a forum for leading scientists from inside and outside the SRF program to provide new perspectives on the search for a cure, while promoting synergy among investigators and advancing the growing understanding of scleroderma.

Understanding of scleroderma at the cellular and molecular level is increasing thanks in part to partnerships the SRF has facilitated. Increasingly, SRF-funded scientists are exploring new opportunities that will translate laboratory advances into effective therapies to help patients live longer, fuller lives.

The Scleroderma Research Foundation is leading the scleroderma research effort by:

  • Promoting collaboration and cross-institutional cooperation among scientists in a variety of disciplines, through a strategic, integrated program.
  • Attracting promising new scientists to scleroderma research, through its Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.
  • Promoting and maintaining Scleroderma Centers of Excellence, such as the Scleroderma Center at Johns Hopkins University.
  • Bringing new experts, technology and forward thinking to the field of scleroderma research.
 
E-mail Print PDF
 

Research News

EULAR: Updated scleroderma guidance focuses on new treatments, approaches

Author: Sara Freeman
Date Published: June-2015
Source: PM360

ROME (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Updated expert recommendations from the European League Against Rheumatism for the treatment of systemic sclerosis will focus on several new treatment options, although the use of biologic agents is not included in detail because there are still too few data on these drugs to give firm guidance on their use. The EULAR Scleroderma Trials and Research group (EUSTAR) recommendations for the treatment of scleroderma were first published 6 years ago ( Ann. Rheum. Dis. 2009;68:620-8 ) and considered data through December 2006. “Since then, a number of new drugs have become available and new and important information has been published concerning treatments already known before,” said Dr. Otylia Kowal-Bielecka of the Medical University of Bialystok, Poland, who discussed some of the main highlights of the revised recommendations (Ann. Rheum. Dis. 2015;74:90-1) at the European Congress of Rheumatology.

Fresolimumab treatment decreases biomarkers and improves clinical symptoms in systemic sclerosis patients

Author: L. Rice, Cristina M. Padilla, S. McLaughlin, A. Mathes, J. Ziemek, S. Goummih, S. Nakerakanti, M. York, G. Farina, M. Whitfield, R. Spiera, R. Christmann, J. Gordon, J. Weinberg, R. Simms, and R. Lafyatis
Date Published: June-2015
Source: Journal of Clinical Investigation

BACKGROUND. TGF-β has potent profibrotic activity in vitro and has long been implicated in systemic sclerosis (SSc), as expression of TGF-β–regulated genes is increased in the skin and lungs of patients with SSc. Therefore, inhibition of TGF-β may benefit these patients. METHODS. Patients with early, diffuse cutaneous SSc were enrolled in an open-label trial of fresolimumab, a high-affinity neutralizing antibody that targets all 3 TGF-β isoforms. Seven patients received two 1 mg/kg doses of fresolimumab, and eight patients received one 5 mg/kg dose of fresolimumab. Serial mid-forearm skin biopsies, performed before and after treatment, were analyzed for expression of the TGF-β–regulated biomarker genes thrombospondin-1 (THBS1) and cartilage oligomeric protein (COMP) and stained for myofibroblasts. Clinical skin disease was assessed using the modified Rodnan skin score (MRSS).

FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Actemra (tocilizumab) in Systemic Sclerosis

Author: Genentech
Date Published: June-2015
Source: Genentech

Genentech, a member of the Roche Group (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY), today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation status to Actemra® (tocilizumab) for systemic sclerosis, also known as scleroderma.1 This designation is intended to expedite the development and review of medicines with early signals of potential clinical benefit in serious diseases and to help ensure patients have access to them as soon as possible. Genentech has also initiated a Phase III study in systemic sclerosis (NCT02453256), a disease for which there are inadequate treatment options.3,4

Cardiac troponin testing in idiopathic inflammatory myopathies and systemic sclerosis-spectrum disorders: biomarkers to distinguish between primary cardiac involvement and low-grade skeletal muscle disease activity

Author: Michael Hughes, James B Lilleker, Ariane L Herrick, Hector Chinoy
Date Published: March-2015
Source: Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases

Primary cardiac involvement, an under-recognised manifestation of the idiopathic inflammatory myopathies (IIM) and systemic sclerosis (SSc)-spectrum disorders, is associated with significant mortality. Within these two conditions, traditional skeletal muscle enzyme testing may not effectively distinguish between skeletal and cardiac muscle involvement, especially in patients with subclinical cardiac disease.

Adipocyte–myofibroblast transition: linking intradermal fat loss to skin fibrosis in SSc

Author: Sarah Onuora
Date Published: January-2015
Source: Nature Reviews Rheumatology

Myofibroblasts are considered the primary fibrogenic effector cells in systemic sclerosis (SSc), but the origin of these cells within fibrotic lesions is a matter of debate. A new study published in Arthritis & Rheumatology shows that the majority of dermal myofibroblasts in fibrotic skin arise from adiponectin-positive progenitors resident in the…

News for Patients

Unique Microbial Signature Identified in Systemic Sclerosis

Author: Pam Harrison
Date Published: June-2015
Source: Medscape

Patients with systemic sclerosis have a distinct colonic microbiome that might contribute to clinical manifestations of the disease, according to a new study. "I see scleroderma patients exclusively in my practice, and gastrointestinal symptoms are sometimes the number one complaint," said Elizabeth Volkmann, MD, from the University of California at Los Angeles. "Patients often don't even feel comfortable disclosing these symptoms because they are so personal."

Tocilizumab and Systemic Sclerosis

Author: James Radke, PhD
Date Published: June-2015
Source: Rare Disease Report

t’s a busy week for Genentech and systemic sclerosis researchers. First, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation status to tocilizumab (Actemra) for treating patients with systemic sclerosis, or scleroderma.1 The designation should expedite the development and review of tocilizumab for this rare condition. Second, data from the phase 2 study that led to the Breakthrough Designation is being presented at EULAR 2015 this week as well. The developers of tocilizumab, Genentech also announced they have begun a phase 3 study to test the safety and efficacy of tocilizumab in patients with systemic sclerosis.

EULAR: Updated scleroderma guidance focuses on new treatments, approaches

Author: Sara Freeman
Date Published: June-2015
Source: PM360

ROME (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Updated expert recommendations from the European League Against Rheumatism for the treatment of systemic sclerosis will focus on several new treatment options, although the use of biologic agents is not included in detail because there are still too few data on these drugs to give firm guidance on their use. The EULAR Scleroderma Trials and Research group (EUSTAR) recommendations for the treatment of scleroderma were first published 6 years ago ( Ann. Rheum. Dis. 2009;68:620-8 ) and considered data through December 2006. “Since then, a number of new drugs have become available and new and important information has been published concerning treatments already known before,” said Dr. Otylia Kowal-Bielecka of the Medical University of Bialystok, Poland, who discussed some of the main highlights of the revised recommendations (Ann. Rheum. Dis. 2015;74:90-1) at the European Congress of Rheumatology.

Fresolimumab treatment decreases biomarkers and improves clinical symptoms in systemic sclerosis patients

Author: L. Rice, Cristina M. Padilla, S. McLaughlin, A. Mathes, J. Ziemek, S. Goummih, S. Nakerakanti, M. York, G. Farina, M. Whitfield, R. Spiera, R. Christmann, J. Gordon, J. Weinberg, R. Simms, and R. Lafyatis
Date Published: June-2015
Source: Journal of Clinical Investigation

BACKGROUND. TGF-β has potent profibrotic activity in vitro and has long been implicated in systemic sclerosis (SSc), as expression of TGF-β–regulated genes is increased in the skin and lungs of patients with SSc. Therefore, inhibition of TGF-β may benefit these patients. METHODS. Patients with early, diffuse cutaneous SSc were enrolled in an open-label trial of fresolimumab, a high-affinity neutralizing antibody that targets all 3 TGF-β isoforms. Seven patients received two 1 mg/kg doses of fresolimumab, and eight patients received one 5 mg/kg dose of fresolimumab. Serial mid-forearm skin biopsies, performed before and after treatment, were analyzed for expression of the TGF-β–regulated biomarker genes thrombospondin-1 (THBS1) and cartilage oligomeric protein (COMP) and stained for myofibroblasts. Clinical skin disease was assessed using the modified Rodnan skin score (MRSS).

FDA Grants Breakthrough Therapy Designation for Actemra (tocilizumab) in Systemic Sclerosis

Author: Genentech
Date Published: June-2015
Source: Genentech

Genentech, a member of the Roche Group (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY), today announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted Breakthrough Therapy Designation status to Actemra® (tocilizumab) for systemic sclerosis, also known as scleroderma.1 This designation is intended to expedite the development and review of medicines with early signals of potential clinical benefit in serious diseases and to help ensure patients have access to them as soon as possible. Genentech has also initiated a Phase III study in systemic sclerosis (NCT02453256), a disease for which there are inadequate treatment options.3,4

Ways to Give

There are many ways that you can support the work of the Scleroderma Research Foundation. We are grateful for your commitment to helping the SRF fund research that will result in improved therapies and, ultimately, a cure.

» Click here for details