Scleroderma clinicians and researchers in the United States and China have launched an international network to fight this debilitating disease that affects more than one million people worldwide.
The network was established by faculty at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) and Fudan University in Shanghai, China, and it will help clinicians compare treatments and researchers share data.
The formation of the International Network of Scleroderma Clinical Care and Research (InSCAR) was announced at a Feb. 20 scientific symposium in Shanghai.
"Scleroderma is complex and hard to treat," said Xiaodong Zhou, M.D., co-vice chair for the network and an associate professor of medicine at the UTHealth Medical School. "And, there is no cure."
Scleroderma is associated with hardening of the skin. It can also cause thickening of blood vessels, lungs and other organs. Depending on which organ is affected, the disease can be fatal.
Researchers at the two universities believe they can accelerate the development of new treatments by working more closely with their counterparts in other countries. "We are calling on all researchers around the world to make this network more effective," he said.
Currently, UTHealth and Fudan researchers are collaborating on a project to pinpoint genetic causes of scleroderma by comparing the DNA of people with the disease to people without the disease. Research is supported by a National Institutes of Health grant.
"I would like to see a collaboration that provides the best care to patients and supports cutting-edge research in both U.S. and Chinese settings," said Maureen D. Mayes, M.D., M.P.H., chair of InSCAR and professor of medicine at the UTHealth Medical School.
If researchers can determine which genes are responsible for the disease, they may be able to develop drugs to modify their activity, Zhou said.
Also of interest to researchers, according to Zhou, is the use of Chinese traditional medicines to treat scleroderma. "Some of the patients feel better but there is no data to support that. We would like to compare clinical data. The results could be very interesting," he said.
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston