This Plan takes us a giant step closer to getting additional funding for autoimmune disease research. Congressional approval is now needed to implement and fund the Plan. The Foundation is asking everyone to advocate for this Plan by contacting their Senators and Representatives and urging them to support it. This effort is being coordinated by the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), which worked closely with NIH on the development of the Plan. Virginia Ladd, Executive Director of AARDA, said: “It is important for all patients with any autoimmune disease to fight for funding for this plan. Supporting autoimmune disease research will help all patients, regardless of their particular illness.”
The Plan provides specific recommendations on future research directions and demonstrates the commitment of NIH and the Department of Health and Human Services to continue a robust program of autoimmune disease research. The plan also calls for educating the medical community and the public about autoimmune diseases.
“This plan highlights many unprecedented opportunities to increase our understanding of autoimmune diseases at the population, individual and molecular levels, with a conceptual focus on the underlying mechanisms shared among many autoimmune diseases,” said Elias Zerhouni, M.D., director of the National Institutes of Health. “This strategy should ultimately allow the translation of new knowledge into more effective treatments and prevention strategies.”
Autoimmune diseases result when the immune system attacks the body’s own organs, tissues and cells. Physicians and scientists have identified more than 80 different autoimmune diseases. Some are well known, such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and systemic lupus; others are less familiar, such as autoimmune hepatitis, Sjögren’s syndrome and pemphigus.
Highlights of the plan include the following:
- The Burden of Autoimmune Diseases: Studies will more accurately determine the incidence, prevalence and severity of autoimmune diseases in the United States as well as the number of deaths that result from these disorders.
- Cause of Autoimmune Diseases: The plan calls for researchers to identify the genetic and environmental factors that lead to autoimmune diseases and to investigate the relationship between them. Other studies will examine more closely what happens to the immune system during autoimmune diseases. To facilitate this research, new animal models of autoimmune disorders will be created.
- Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention: The plan calls for developing centralized, broad-based clinical research centers with the capacity to test potential new treatments and diagnostics with multi-institutional, multi-disciplinary clinical studies. The plan encourages public-private partnerships in creating new treatments. Scientists are also challenged to improve the screening processes that identify at-risk individuals.
- Training, Education and Information: According to the plan, new training and career opportunities must be available to scientists considering a career in autoimmune disease research. For physicians, continuing medical education materials on autoimmune diseases should be created to update them on the latest research advances. For the general public, autoimmune disease information will be made available via the internet and ongoing public education campaigns.
Print copies of the Plan can be ordered by writing to the NIAID Office of Communications and Public Liaison at the following address: 31 Center Drive MSC 2520, Bethesda, Md. 20892-2520. The Plan can also be found on the NIAID Web site at http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/autoimmune/Documents/adccreport.pdf.