UTHealth inaugurates new center for autoimmune and inflammatory diseases research

The University of Texas Health Science at Houston (UTHealth) announced the opening of a center devoted to researching and treating diseases associated with malfunctioning immune systems.

The new Frank C. Arnett, M.D., Center for Autoimmunity and Immunobiology bears the name of the renowned UTHealth rheumatologist known for his investigations into the mechanisms of autoimmune diseases. Last year, he retired as professor.

The center is housed in the UT Physicians rheumatology clinic, 6410 Fannin, Suite 450, and includes approximately 4,000 square feet of space. Appointments can be scheduled by calling 713-486-3100.

Autoimmune and autoinflammatory diseases occur when a person's immune system attacks his or her own tissues. Autoimmune diseases are a family of more than 80 illnesses and collectively affect as many as 23.5 million people in the United States, according to a National Institutes of Health report.

In autoimmune diseases, there usually are circulating immune markers, which help in diagnosis. These diseases, which include rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes and scleroderma, also tend to run in the same families and share many of the same genes.

Other inflammatory diseases do not show these same markers but are increasingly being linked to infections or specific gene mutations. These diseases include ankylosing spondylitis, Familial Mediterranean Fever and TNF receptor-associated periodic syndrome (TRAPS), as well as other diseases with an important inflammatory component, such as Crohn's disease and psoriasis.

John D. Reveille, M.D., the Linda and Ronny Finger Foundation Distinguished Chair in Neuroimmunologic Disorders and the George S. Bruce, Jr. Professor in Arthritis and Other Rheumatic Diseases at the UTHealth Medical School, is the director of the Frank C. Arnett, M.D., Center for Autoimmunity and Immunobiology. He also directs the center's Spondyloarthritis Program and Clinic.

"UTHealth Development Board Member Linda Finger has a personal interest in autoimmune diseases and has a long-standing relationship with the Division of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunogenetics at UTHealth. She has been a major supporter of the division's efforts and the Frank C. Arnett, M.D., Center for Autoimmunity and Immunobiology," Reveille said.

The center is building on the university's world-recognized autoimmune disease research and clinical programs.

Already Arnett, Maureen Mayes, M.D., M.P.H., professor and Elizabeth Bidgood Chair in Rheumatology at the UTHealth Medical School, and other UT colleagues have discovered genes that predispose people toward scleroderma. In addition, Reveille and his team continue to identify genes tied to ankylosing spondylitis and lupus and make advances in the treatment of these debilitating diseases.

"We have recently seen a wave of new discoveries of causes and treatments of autoimmune diseases," said Reveille, chief of rheumatology at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. "Here at the UT Health Science Center at Houston, we are riding the crest of that wave, which will bring better lives to our patients and their families."

The center has multiple disease-focused clinics, including the Vasculitis Clinic, the Scleroderma Program and Clinic, the Spondyloarthritis Program and Clinic and the Lupus Clinic.

The Vasculitis Clinic has received generous support from Finger and is slated to be named in her honor. The Vascular Disease Foundation defines vasculitis as an inflammation of the wall of a blood vessel, a tube that carries blood. The Vasculitis Clinic is led by Filemon Tan, M.D., Ph.D., professor and Linda K. Finger Chair in Autoimmune and Connective Tissue Diseases at the UTHealth Medical School, and Binh Yen Nguyen, M.D, assistant professor of medicine at the UTHealth Medical School.

The Scleroderma Program and Clinic is led by Mayes with the assistance of Shervin Assassi, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the UTHealth Medical School. The Spondyloarthritis Program and Clinic is run by Reveille and Sandeep K. Agarwal, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine at the UTHealth Medical School. And, the Lupus Clinic is temporarily led by Reveille with the assistance of Ankur Kamdar, M.D., assistant professor of pediatrics at the UTHealth Medical School.

"Identifying the genes, which predispose individuals to these disorders, and understanding how they contribute to these disorders are major steps in developing therapies," Arnett said. "By building a true 'bench to bedside' research and clinical enterprise, the center will provide state-of-the-art clinical care for each of these specific diseases and create a collaborative environment with basic science researchers."


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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