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.
 
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Research News

Scleroderma: the role of serum autoantibodies in defining specific clinical phenotypes and organ system involvement.

Author: Robyn Domsic
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Current Opinion in Rheumatology

Purpose of review: To discuss recent advances in serologic testing for systemic sclerosis (SSc)-associated antibodies with respect to the diagnosis and prognosis of the disease. Recent findings: The importance of SSc antibodies for diagnosis has become increasingly recognized, as evidenced by incorporation into the 2013 American College of Rheumatology/the European League Against Rheumatism clinical classification criteria for SSc.

Emerging cellular and molecular targets in fibrosis: implications for scleroderma pathogenesis and targeted therapy.

Author: Castelino FV, Varga J.
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Current Opinion in Rheumatology

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: To summarize the recent advances in understanding the novel cytokine pathways, intracellular signaling molecules, cell-fate decisions, cellular aging and senescence, and the cross-talk of effector cells and the extracellular matrix (ECM) in the pathogenesis of systemic sclerosis (SSc) fibrosis. RECENT FINDINGS: Studies from the animal models and human beings implicate novel molecular pathways such as Wnts, the chemokines, chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 4 and chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2, and the lipid mediators lysophosphatidic acid and sphingosine-1-phosphate in the pathogenesis of SSc. These signals, coupled with the mesenchymal cell-fate decisions, contribute to aberrant fibroblast activation and myofibroblast accumulation.

Update on scleroderma-associated interstitial lung disease.

Author: Fan MH, Feghali-Bostwick CA, Silver RM.
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Current Opinion in Rheumatology

PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Systemic sclerosis (SSc), or scleroderma, is a heterogeneous and complex autoimmune disease characterized by varying degrees of skin and organ fibrosis and obliterative vasculopathy. The disease results in significant morbidity and mortality, and to date, available treatments are limited. Lung involvement is the leading cause of death of patients with SSc. Over the past year, significant advances have been made in our understanding of SSc-associated lung disease, and this review attempts to encapsulate these most recent findings and place them in context.

First-Line Combination of Ambrisentan and Tadalafil Reduces Risk of Clinical Failure Compared to Monotherapy in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension Outcomes Study

Author: Bene MD, Pozzi MR, Rovati L, Mazzola I, Erba G, Bonomi S
Date Published: August-2014
Source: PubMed

Digital ulcers (DUs) occur in up to 50% of patients with Systemic Sclerosis (SSc). DUs are painful, recurring and lead to functional disability. Management of DUs includes pharmacologic and local therapy, the healing process is slow and the ulcer can become infected or evolve to gangrene. Autologous fat grafting (AFG) is a technique used to promote tissues repair. We used AFG to treat DUs refractory to conventional treatment to enhance healing process.

MicroRNAs in Pulmonary Hypertension

Author: Guofei Zhou, Tianji Chen, and J Usha Raj
Date Published: August-2014
Source: ATS Journals

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is a devastating disease without effective treatment. Despite decades of research and development of novel treatments, PAH remains a fatal disease, suggesting an urgent need for better understanding of the pathogenesis of PAH. Recent studies suggest that microRNAs (miRNAs) are dysregulated in patients with PAH and in experimental pulmonary hypertension. Furthermore, normalization of a few miRNAs is reported to inhibit experimental pulmonary hypertension.

News for Patients

Boehringer Ingelheim’s OFEV™ (nintedanib*) approved by the FDA for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis

Author: Dr. Kristin Jakobs
Date Published: October-2014
Source: BusinessWire

Boehringer Ingelheim announced that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved OFEV™ (nintedanib*) for the treatment of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a debilitating and fatal lung disease, which has a median survival of 2-3 years after diagnosis. Until today there were no FDA-approved treatments for IPF. Granted Breakthrough Therapy designation during its review by the FDA, nintedanib* is the first and only tyrosine kinase inhibitor (TKI) approved to treat IPF. Nintedanib* is taken as one capsule twice daily and will be available to patients within 10 days.

FDA Approves Esbriet® (pirfenidone) for the Treatment of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) in the United States

Author: InterMune
Date Published: October-2014
Source: InterMune Press Release

Genentech, a member of the Roche Group (SIX: RO, ROG; OTCQX: RHHBY), announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Esbriet® (pirfenidone) as a treatment for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in the United States. IPF is a fatal disease caused by progressive scarring (fibrosis) of the lungs, which makes breathing difficult and prevents the heart, muscles and vital organs from receiving enough oxygen to work properly. The disease can advance quickly or slowly, but eventually the lungs will harden and stop working altogether.

New Report Identifies Key Features in Systemic Sclerosis

Author: Ana de Barros
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Pulmonary Hypertension News

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a disease that affects multiple organs, with the heart being frequently affected and correlating with a poor outcome for the patient. Different heart structures can be affected leading to pericardial disease, arrhythmias, conduction system abnormalities, direct myocardial disease such as pulmonary arterial hypertension, myositis, cardiac failure, cardiac fibrosis, coronary artery diseases and, sometimes, primary valvular involvement. A group of researchers has recently reviewed key studies concerning cardiac arrhythmias and conduction defects in patients suffering from SSc, a wide-ranging report entitled, “Cardiac arrhythmias and conduction defects in systemic sclerosis,” and published in the journal Rheumatology.

The Brighter Side of Living With Chronic Illness: 6 Amazing Things You Know Better Than Most

Author: Lottie V. Ryan
Date Published: October-2014
Source: HuffPost Healthy Living

The diagnosis of any chronic illness comes with much you wish you didn't have to carry, and suffer with, for the rest of your life. You learn the scales of pain, you learn the bureaucracy of the health care system, you learn to grieve for abilities and opportunities lost, and so much more. I know this; I am living with chronic illness too. Yet all is not lost. Your chronic illness also teaches you many great things that offer enormous reward in life, and sometimes it's good to take a moment to acknowledge this brighter side of your existence.

Reversing the effects of pulmonary fibrosis with a microRNA mimic

Author: Jim Shelton
Date Published: September-2014
Source: YaleNews

Yale University researchers are studying a potential new treatment that reverses the effects of pulmonary fibrosis, a respiratory disease in which scars develop in the lungs and severely hamper breathing. The treatment uses a microRNA mimic, miR-29, which is delivered to lung tissue intravenously. In mouse models, miR-29 not only blocked pulmonary fibrosis, it reversed fibrosis after several days. The findings were published Sept. 19 in the journal EMBO Molecular Medicine.

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.

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