$50,000 Grant to Support Study of Specific Immune Cells in Sarcoidosis

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by Steve Bryson, PhD |

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A professor at Northwestern University has been awarded a $50,000 American Thoracic Society (ATS)/Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals Research Grant to study the role of immune macrophages in the development of sarcoidosis.

Sarcoidosis is a complex immune disease characterized by the accumulation of immune cells such as macrophages, which progress to form clumps  — or granulomas — in different tissues and organs, affecting proper function. Over time, these granulomas can become hardened (calcified), causing permanent damage.

The disease primarily affects the lungs, but can also involve other areas, including the skin, eyes, liver, kidneys, brain, and heart. About one-third of patients have progressive disease, characterized by chronic inflammation in multiple organ systems.

Recently, Deborah Winter, PhD, collected different subtypes of macrophages from the lungs of newly diagnosed, treatment-naive patients.

“Dr. Winter identified three distinct populations of alveolar macrophages in the lungs from patients with newly diagnosed, untreated pulmonary sarcoidosis,” Karen Ridge, PhD, said in a press release.

Ridge chairs the group that oversees the grant application process at ATS Research Program, which supports young investigators in pulmonary research, sleep medicine, and critical care.

The proposed research — “Targeting Macrophage Subpopulations in Sarcoidosis” — will further investigate and genetically manipulate these different macrophage types to understand how they form granulomas. The work aims to find new therapeutic targets that halt or slow granuloma formation, which may lead to effective treatments.

“Her novel proposal will disrupt genes in these macrophage populations to determine the effect on granuloma formation,” Ridge said. “The successful completion of her work will indicate which macrophage subpopulations are critical to the development of sarcoidosis.”

Discoveries made “will enable the field to test potential therapeutic targets to specifically modify these macrophage populations,” she added. 

The work is also supported by Mallinckrodt, a company that distributes Acthar Gel, a corticotropin injection as an alternative treatment for patients who do not tolerate or respond to the first-line pulmonary sarcoidosis treatment prednisone (a corticosteroid). 

“Mallinckrodt is honored to support ATS with this research grant and pleased that it will fund Dr. Winter’s study to better understand sarcoidosis and the causes of this difficult-to-treat disease,” said Steve Romano, MD, executive vice president and chief scientific officer at Mallinckrodt. “We look forward to seeing the results of this important work.”