Arthritis? Richard DiPaolo, Ph.D., assistant professor in the department of molecular microbiology and immunology at Saint Louis University, has received a $75,000 grant from the Arthritis National Research Foundation to explore whether cells in the immune system known as “regulatory T cells” are an effective treatment for rheumatoid arthritis.
About 1.3 million Americans have rheumatoid arthritis, which is a painful and chronic health problem and among approximately 80 autoimmune diseases.
“Regulatory T cells are the immune system’s way of controlling inflammation and preventing the development of various autoimmune diseases,” said DiPaolo. “But preventing a disease is a lot different from stopping a disease once it’s begun. Whether or not regulatory T cells can be used therapeutically is unclear.”
DiPaolo, who has invested the last seven years in learning about how regulatory T cells work, also has been named an Arthritis National Research Foundation Scholar. That group funds research by promising young scientists who are pursuing cutting-edge projects for the treatment and cure of arthritis.
“We have shown that regulatory T cells can prevent the development of rheumatoid arthritis when given before the disease process has begun. We will now investigate whether they can be used as an effective treatment when given after the disease is already in progress,” he said.
“We will also investigate how regulatory T cells suppress inflammation in joints. These studies will provide valuable insight into the potential to use regulatory T cells, or drugs that mimic their activity, to treat rheumatoid arthritis and potentially other autoimmune diseases.”
Autoimmune diseases occur when the body’s immune system misreads its own cells as foreign invaders and attacks them. Regulatory T cells are a group of cells in the immune system that run interference and stop the attack, which prevents autoimmune diseases from developing in the first place.
“Now the field is moving to the area of whether we can use these cells to treat the diseases,” DiPaolo said.
“The potential for these regulatory T cells is so great they are being tested in a lot of autoimmune diseases. Inflammation in different organs is different. We may be able to use regulatory T cells to stop the joints from swelling in arthritis patients, but not stop the pancreas from swelling in diabetics. It’s just as important to find out that they’re not going to work as they do work.”
DiPaolo joined Saint Louis University about two years ago, after working for five years in the Cellular Immunology Section of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of a section of the National Institutes of Health. The Arthritis National Research Foundation named DiPaolo this year’s Don Minassian Memorial Fellow.
Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.
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