A consortium of European researchers has received nearly 15 million euros in European Commission funding to study chronic inflammatory diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus. The goal is to develop treatments that target the root causes of the diseases.
The grant, the equivalent of $16 million, is also aimed at developing markers to predict inflammatory-disease treatment outcomes.
The European Union consortium, known as “A systems medicine approach to chronic inflammatory disease,” or SYSCID, will include scientists from academic institutions and the pharmaceutical industry. Kiel University of Germany will coordinate the effort.
“Our vision is to develop a prediction framework for disease outcome and choice of treatment strategies,” Dr. Philip Rosenstiel of the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University, and scientific coordinator of the consortium, said in a press release. “With many new targeted therapies coming to the market, we need the right therapy at the right time.”
“Our approach combines several biomarker layers from the epigenome to the microbiome, but also aims to investigate more sophisticated tools, such as single-cell analysis.” Rosenstiel added.
In contrast with traditional biomarkers of inflammatory disease, researchers hope the studies uncover markers more specific to the various diseases. Up to now, inflammatory factors in the blood have often been used to study chronic inflammatory disease, but such molecules can increase if someone has a mild infection, such as a cold.
The project will use samples from patients who are followed over time. Researchers hope large-scale molecular analyses of various types of samples give them a better understanding of changes in the immunological networks associated with response to treatment. Patterns linked to a lack of response will also be studied.
In addition to identifying markers of treatment response, the project aims to develop a treatment strategy. Unlike the many treatment options used today, its goal is to go after the cause of the diseases.
Researchers believe they can achieve this by altering the epigenome — the entire set of chemical modifications in DNA that determine which genes are active.
“Assuming that the development and course of a disease are related to long-term epigenetic alterations, it makes sense to target the very root of the disease,” Rosenstiel said.
Research into the epigenome is by no means new. SYSCID intends to build on earlier and current research.
The partners will also tap into current international initiatives, such as the International Human Epigenome Consortium (IHEC). That will allow SYSCID to use already collected patient data, maximizing resources.