The following is a description of a study from one of the many researchers that our organization has funded.

Exploring environmental triggers for RA

Joyce Wu, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School
Boston, Massachusetts
The Sontag Foundation Fellow

Identification of commensal and commensal mediated-immunoregulation that control autoimmune arthritis

In order to improve the treatment of and find a cure for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), we need to better understand its causes. It is thought that RA is an autoimmune disease caused by a complex interplay of genetic and environmental factors. Dr. Wu’s research interest is to identify the possible environmental triggers for RA. Her studies have focused on microbes because they are known for shaping the immune system. The majority of microbes encountered in our surroundings are gut microbiota that live mostly in harmony with humans. Recently, Dr. Wu discovered that segmented filamentous bacteria, a type of gut bacterium, can drive RA development by promoting the differentiation of T helper (Th) 17 cells, which have been implicated in the pathogenesis of RA.

Dr. Wu’s study will provide further mechanistic insights into how the interaction of gut microbiota and their hosts can affect an autoimmune disease. She will examine the types of bacteria and their products capable of either helping or worsening disease development. In addition, she will examine various subtypes of gut mucosal that can be involved in arthritis development. Exploring the interaction of gut microbes and the host immune system will not only allow us to understand the pathogenesis of disease but may also give us new approaches to design novel immuno- or microbe-based therapies.

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