SCLERODERMA, COVID-19, and AUTOIMMUNITY RESEARCH- Fighting back against a body that attacks itself

SCLERODERMA, COVID-19, and AUTOIMMUNITY RESEARCH- Fighting back against a body that attacks itself


Around 300 000 Americans are affected by scleroderma. African Americans are more at risk of developing the condition. Symptoms include hard, thick skin which is smooth and shiny in appearance and can include painful and swollen joints. A secondary condition, Raynaud’s phenomenon, often occurs with numbness in the fingers and toes due to decreased circulation.

Roxane Darbousset (PhD) – Platelets as neutrophil amplifiers in systemic sclerosis

Energy borrowed from blood cells lets immune cells work overtime

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease characterized by ongoing stiffening of the connective tissue, including the connective tissue in the skin and vital internal organs such as the lung, heart and kidneys. Two key blood cells seem to contribute greatly to the development of the condition. It appears that one type of blood cell involved in blood clotting (platelets) gives the part of itself that produces energy to another type of blood cells involved in our immune system (neutrophils). This extra energy allows these immune cells to work overtime. Dr Darbousset is hoping to determine if this extra energy results in an inappropriate response by a patient’s immune system leading to the development of scleroderma. If so, targeting this interaction could be a new way to treat the condition.


With over 30 million Americans having had COVID-19, research into the condition and its long-term affects becomes increasingly important. Although an effective vaccine is available for the millions that have had the virus ongoing research is key to minimizing any future concerns and impact from the condition.

Yu Ray Zuo (MD) – Mechanisms of infection-induced autoimmunity in COVID-19 and beyond

COVID-19 as an inducer of autoimmunity

Autoimmune conditions result from misplaced and incorrect immune system activity, usually involving antibodies and inflammation incorrectly directed at healthy cells and tissues in the body. Growing evidence suggests that COVID-19 resembles autoimmune conditions in that it triggers a similarly inappropriate immune response which results in blood clots forming. The association between infections such as COVID-19 and autoimmune responses need to be studied to determine the long-term consequences of it. Dr Zuo will investigate how infection leads to an autoimmune like response. This research will provide a foundation that will be necessary to develop treatment for the long-term symptoms experienced by many COVID-19 patients.

Inflammatory Arthritis

Inflammatory arthritis can take multiple forms including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus arthritis and gout. Millions of Americans are impacted by these conditions and a single treatment option for multiple conditions would have extensive and far-reaching benefits.

Gale “Morrie” Granger Fellowship:

Dr. Tam Quach (PhD) – Investigating how TNF affects the generation of autoreactive B cells

Arthritis medication leading to secondary autoimmune conditions

Treatments for inflammatory arthritis include TNF inhibitors or biologic anti-inflammatory medications. These lower immune responses so that they no longer occur at excessive levels. Unfortunately, there seems to be a link between the use of these medications and the development of a secondary autoimmune condition such as lupus. Dr Quach thinks that this happens because the medications alter the internal stable environment of certain immune cells. The research from her study will help determine why this happens in some patients and which patients are at risk for developing unwanted side effects of these drugs.


Dr. Hu Zeng (PhD) – Immune Checkpoint Inhibition Induced Inflammatory Arthritis Correlates with Imbalance Between T-cell Exhaustion and Senescence

Cells that don’t become exhausted but age rapidly contribute to autoimmunity

Research that Dr Zeng has previously conducted found that T cells (which help identify foreign bodies) from patients with certain autoimmune conditions do not tire as quickly as cells from healthy individuals. This allows them to be overactive. On the other hand, these overactive cells age far more rapidly. Dr Zeng believes these two aspects of T cells contribute to the development of many conditions including cancer, infectious disease and autoimmune conditions. Medications that target T cells that don’t tire easily but age prematurely are already in clinical trials. This research will hopefully show that these medications are an appropriate treatment for certain autoimmune conditions.


Article Author
Arthritis National Research Foundation

The Arthritis National Research Foundation's mission is to provide initial research funding to brilliant, investigative scientists with new ideas to cure arthritis and related autoimmune diseases. Writing articles about the patients affected and the science being done to find a cure shows why we need to come together to #CureArthritis!

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