Research in the division focuses on basic and clinical studies of the pathogenesis and treatment of systemic autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis and vasculitis. There are strong NIH and privately funded research programs in the immunology and genetics of SLE and related conditions as well as nascent programs in immunotoxicology, the role of xenobiotics in autoimmunity, fibromyalgia, and immunodiagnosis. Ongoing studies of the pathogenesis of autoimmune disease include basic studies of disease mechanisms in animals as well as translational research in humans. Clinical research is rapidly expanding through the University of Florida’s NIH-supported UF Clinical Research Center and through the new state and federally funded Autoimmune Disease Center. An interdisciplinary approach is one of the major strengths of the program. An experimental therapeutics research program will be established in the near future with plans to recruit an additional faculty member with interests in this area.
A major strength of the university is its diversity of research in the basic immunology and genetics of autoimmune diseases. We are internationally known for studies of mice that develop autoimmune diseases. Teams of scientists based in the departments of Oral Biology, Medicine (Rheumatology, Nephrology, and Endocrinology) and Pathology are intensively examining the causes of Sjogren’s syndrome, lupus and autoimmune diabetes in mice. There also is a major interest in the respective roles of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers in autoimmune disease. A primary goal is to translate what is being learned about autoimmune diseases in mouse models to human disease. The UF Clinical Research Center (UF CRC) greatly facilitates translational research. Autoimmune disease is one of the areas of special emphasis in this state-of-the-art facility, which provides inpatient and outpatient clinical units and core facilities for biostatistics, bioinformatics and mass spectrometry. Nearly all of the patients cared for in the lupus clinical unit have elected to participate in research studies. An extensive clinical database and serum bank have been established, and a DNA bank is being developed. Nearly 2,000 patients have participated in our research studies. Over the past year, nearly 200 new patients have enrolled into clinical studies. We are developing an additional site at University Hospital in Jacksonville and are now recruiting patients at Saint Vincent’s Hospital in New York. These research efforts are, or have been, supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health, The Arthritis Foundation, the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation, the Lupus Foundation of America, and the Lupus and Scleroderma Society of Central Florida
Patients enrolled in research protocols are monitored closely using tests for biological markers of disease, many of which were developed by division faculty. The clinical immunology laboratory is a leader in the field of autoantibody testing and serves as a reference center for the Antinuclear Antibody Standardization Committee, sponsored by the International Union of Immunological Societies, World Health Organization, Arthritis Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control. In collaboration with the UF CRC Mass Spectrometry Core Facility, a new urine test has been developed that may simplify monitoring of disease activity. We are also in the early stages of evaluating new approaches for diagnosing kidney, lung and vascular involvement in systemic autoimmune diseases.