New Institute to Research Link Between Infections and Inflammatory Diseases

Andrew Kitchenman | August 2, 2013 | Health Care
Combined Rutgers effort will look to develop alternative treatments to steroids

Left to right: David Alland, M.D.; Sally Hodder, M.D.; William C. Gause, Ph.D.; David Perlin, Ph.D.
Medical research has increasingly implicated inflammations in a wide range of diseases. Now, a new institute at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark intends to take advantage of that growing body of data to develop state-of-the-art treatments.

Announced this week, the Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases will merge three Rutgers facilities.

“We’re really strengthening our research” and preparing for new approaches, said Dr. William Gause, the school’s senior associate dean. He will serve as one of four lead members of the institute’s research team.

Diseases and conditions ranging from cardiovascular problems and HIV to diabetes and obesity have been linked to dysfunctions in the immune system associated with inflammations. Autoimmune diseases like inflammatory bowel syndrome and Type 1 diabetes have been increasing for unknown reasons, with the National Institutes of Health estimating that up to 23.5 million Americans are afflicted by these health problems.

The institute will merge the Public Health Research Institute, the Center for Immunity and Inflammation and the Center for Emerging Pathogens.

“By bringing this together, we hope to create new synergy,” and break down the “silos” that exist between the different areas, Gause said.

Inflammation and the effects of infections are increasingly seen as an important area of medical research, Gause noted. It’s believed that disruptions to normal immune responses increase a person’s susceptibility to a variety of disorders.

Gause said he hopes the institute benefits from the recent merger of much of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey with Rutgers University.

The researchers want the institute to not only be a “a bricks and mortar institute” in Newark but also an organization that will bring together researchers from across Rutgers’ campuses. He pointed to a March conference in Newark as an example of the kinds of projects that the institute could pursue.

“We hope eventually make this an institute that has virtual connections with other campuses across all of Rutgers,” Gause said.

Gause said the goal is to develop new treatments for inflammation that are alternatives to steroids, which have harmful side effects.

“What we hope to be able to do is gain a more in-depth understanding of the immune system,” including the types of cells and molecules that control harmful aspects of the immune system, he said.

Being part of a medical school, the institute will be in a position to quickly translate the research into clinical treatments, he added.

“This institute is really focused on developing translational research programs that will include not only basic scientists but also clinicians,” Gause said, leading to “bench to bedside” treatments.

Interim Chancellor of Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences Christopher Molloy said in a statement that the institute would bring together more than 250 scientists, including many who are prominent in the field.

“We anticipate that their successes will produce dramatic progress against some of these diseases and keep the institute growing at a significant pace,” Molloy said.