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

Recent advances in scleroderma-associated pulmonary hypertension.

Author: Kristen Highland
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Current Opinion in Rheumatology

Purpose of review: This review summarizes recent advances in pulmonary hypertension, a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in scleroderma (SSc). Recent findings: Although WHO Group I pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) is the most common cause of pulmonary hypertension, all WHO Groups can occur. PAH is now a criterion for the diagnosis of SSc. Results of recent research have resulted in greater insight into the epidemiology of SSc-pulmonary hypertension with regard to prevalence, incidence and clinical risk factors.

Editorial: update on scleroderma and other fibrosing syndromes.

Author: Soumya Chatterjee
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Current Opinion in Rheumatology

With the turn of the century, the knowledge of the pathogenesis of fibrosing disorders has revolutionized, largely because of better understanding of the molecular mechanisms of fibrosis. This section update gives us a glimpse of the recent advances in the field from internationally renowned experts in scleroderma (SSc) and other fibrosing syndromes.

New Targets For Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension Treatments Identified By Researchers

Author: Patricia Inacio
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Pulmonary Hypertension News

A new study published in September’s issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, entitled, “The Sphingosine Kinase 1 / Sphingosine-1-Phosphate Pathway in Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension” reports the discovery of two novel therapeutic targets to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension.

Patient-derived stem cells shed light on pulmonary hypertension

Author: Leigh MacMillan
Date Published: September-2014
Source: Vanderbilt University

Pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH) – high blood pressure in the lungs – has been linked to both heritable and idiopathic (spontaneous) causes. The underlying vascular changes that cause PAH are unclear and previous attempts to study changes in patient tissues have been limited by end-stage disease effects.

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.

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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