The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has given a $1.98 million grant to Wayne State University researchers to refine an antibody-based technology that can help to distinguish people with sarcoidosis from tuberculosis patients and healthy individuals.
Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease in which abnormal masses — called granulomas — accumulate in organs that can include the lungs, brain, and heart. To date, no straight-forward tests can diagnose this disease. Rather, sarcoidosis is typically diagnosed based on the presence of granulomas in tissue biopsies after other diseases are ruled out.
Tuberculosis also involves the formation of granulomas, and simple tests are lacking to distinguish between latent tuberculosis infection, full-blown tuberculosis, and sarcoidosis.
Researchers at Wayne State University, led by associate professor Lobelia Samavati, MD, are working to find specific biomarkers of sarcoidosis and tuberculosis. (Sarcoidosis is highly prevalent in Detroit, home to Wayne State.)
Samavati’s team has developed a library derived from sarcoidosis tissue that can help distinguish patients with sarcoidosis from those with other respiratory diseases.
“We have identified a panel of biomarkers/classifiers with high sensitivity and specificity that can discriminate between sera [blood] of patients with sarcoidosis and healthy controls, as well as active tuberculosis subjects,” Samavati said in a press release. “Our results have been published in several peer-reviewed journals, and we have two different licenses for our invention.”
With the aid of the NIH grant, Samavati’s project — titled “A Novel T7 Phage Display Technology to Detect Sarcoidosis Specific Antigens” — aims to improve their ability to distinguish sarcoidosis from latent tuberculosis and healthy controls.
The novel platform is based on the T7 phage library. T7 phages are viruses that can be engineered to carry DNA and display disease-specific antigens (triggers for the immune system) on their surface.
Samavati’s team has already identified antibodies that can be used as a therapeutic target. A goal is to further map these epitopes (which are targeted by the antibodies), and identify their biological function.
In addition to being therapeutic targets, current data suggest that some of these epitopes can also be used as diagnostic tools.
The team’s overall goal is to determine which specific antigens initiate granuloma formation in sarcoidosis, and how the immune system’s response causes the development of either sarcoidosis or latent tuberculosis.
Researchers hope that their approach will help to develop a panel of biomarkers that can be used for determining organ involvement in sarcoidosis, differential diagnosis of other granulomatous diseases, or response to treatment.
“We believe that our technology will be able to harness the diversity of antibodies and can aid to identify protective antibodies in various diseases in humans, including viral respiratory infections such as the corona virus,” Samavati said. “We believe that this study is the beginning of [a] new era to identify protective immunity in [the] form of antibodies.”
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