Muthusamy Thiruppathi, a postdoctoral research associate in microbiology and immunology in the College of Medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago, was awarded an MDA development grant totaling $180,000 over a period of three years to pursue ways to restore normal immune system function in myasthenia gravis (MG).
MG occurs when certain cells in the body’s immune system mistakenly target specific proteins on skeletal muscle, causing weakness. The immune system is usually tightly regulated by immune cells called regulatory T cells. In other autoimmune disorders, it is now recognized that there is a defect in the number or function of these cells, and that this contributes to the development of autoimmunity (a condition in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues).
Thiruppathi and colleagues recently have shown that in MG, the number of regulatory T cells is normal, but they do not function properly to suppress unwanted immune responses. “We will now thoroughly examine the nature of this immune defect in MG,” he says, using blood cells collected from individuals with MG and unaffected individuals.
Thiruppathi also will be exploring a strategy to enhance the function of these cells using a natural immune system growth factor called granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor.
By developing a deeper understanding of exactly how the immune system goes awry, it may be possible to “change the approach to the treatment of myasthenia gravis from global, nonspecific immune modulation to focused, individualized, cellular therapy,” he says.
Funding for this MDA grant began Feb. 1, 2013.