A new European project coordinated by Kiel University in Germany has been awarded with €14.4 million euros (about $15.3 million U.S. dollars) to develop a personalized medicine approach for predicting and treating three chronic inflammatory diseases: Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), systemic lupus erythematodes (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
The project, “A systems medicine approach to chronic inflammatory disease” (SYSCID), was announced by the European Commission in a recent press release.
The project will join academic and industry partners from nine European countries that will actively work toward discovering new ways to predict and treat these conditions, which have distinct characteristics, but overlap significantly in their molecular risk map.
Chronic inflammatory diseases have a lifetime prevalence of more than 10% in Europe, and represent a major public health burden. Many genetic and non-genetic factors play a role in chronic inflammatory diseases, and a tailored therapeutic approach could help deliver more effective and timely therapies for those living with these diseases.
The consortium will work to identify both shared and unique characteristics, or “core disease signatures,” and build predictive models for disease outcomes. Researchers hope to identify biomarkers that can guide therapeutic decisions on an individual basis.
“Our vision is to develop a prediction framework for disease outcome and choice of treatment strategies. With many new targeted therapies coming to the market, we need the right therapy at the right time,” said Philip Rosenstiel, PhD, of the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology at Kiel University and scientific coordinator of the SYSCID consortium said.
“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,” he said.
For the next five years, researchers also aim to alter or reprogram these diseases genetically through epigenome editing.
The epigenome refers to the chemical compounds introduced to the genome (one’s DNA), and that regulate gene expression. These epigenetic changes can impact, for example, adaptation to environmental stimuli, and response to therapies.
Epigenome editing is a genetic engineering technique in which the epigenome is modified at specific sites using engineered molecules targeted to those sites.
The consortium will analyze the genetic mapping from patients to better understand the immunological network changes associated with the course of these diseases, and with response and non-response to current treatments. The ultimate goal of using this approach is to enable the development of gene therapies to treat the “root” of these diseases.
“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.
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