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New hope for people with autoimmune disease

It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to live with a chronic and debilitating disease. A disease for which there is no known cause or cure. 

This is the reality of autoimmune disease. A disease that interrupts the daily lives of 12% of the population. Autoimmune disease is problematic. Once you have the disease, you have it for life. There are 100 different types of this disease – some rare, some common, including MS, type 1 diabetes, Sjogren's syndrome, scleroderma, and psoriatic arthritis.

It’s a group of diseases that’s on the rise and yet, we still know very little about what causes these conditions. If we don’t know what causes them, how can we effectively treat them?

The Triple I Clinical Academic Group at Maridulu Budyari Gumal is hoping to find out.

A project called Hope

The Hope Research project is an ambitious attempt to understand the underlying cause of more than 40 autoimmune diseases. To our knowledge, this has not been done elsewhere. Usually each disease is studied in isolation. 

Doing this will allow clinicians and researchers to potentially find the common basis of all autoimmune disease. Importantly, it will also identify the drivers of disease. 

As the Triple I CAG’s Project Lead, Professor Chris Goodnow explains, “We'll start to see common roots at the cellular and molecular level that explain multiple autoimmune diseases. So that diseases that appear completely different will actually turn out to have the same underlying basis.”

This could be a turning point for patients with autoimmune disease. 

How Hope could change lives

If the project is successful, patients and doctors will finally have answers. They will know why someone has autoimmune disease, what causes it, what cells have been affected and what a patient’s vulnerabilities are. 

Knowing this means we’ll be able to start research to accurately target a patient’s symptoms. We can also design more informed clinical trials, rather than taking a “try it and see” approach to treatment. 

As Professor Goodnow says, “We can get to the point where what we’re doing is an exact science – for patients, doctors and the system as a whole.” 

A study of extraordinary scale

The scale of this project is extraordinary and requires the participation of researchers, physicians, patients and healthy individuals from across Sydney. As each autoimmune disease is studied and treated by different specialists, there’s the added challenge of trying to bring specialists from more than 40 unrelated diseases together under one roof. 

To ensure the success of this collaborative study, it’s important the research criteria is tight from the outset. 

Once this has been agreed and written, the team will recruit 30 recently diagnosed patients that meet the clinical criteria for each of the diseases. Plus 10 age and gender matched healthy controls for each of those diseases. This will bring the study to 1,600 participants. 

Connecting a community of physicians

There is an enormous amount of expertise to tap into across the Sydney basin. This project will leverage that expertise and bring a community of physicians and researchers together. These are specialists that come with incredibly particular skills and have patients who could benefit from the project. 

Through Maridulu Budyari Gumal, the Triple I team is building an exceptional community that wouldn’t have been possible without the partnership. “Triple I has put us in touch with people we didn’t even know were in this space” confirms Professor Goodnow. 

The network has opened doors to connect quickly with unrelated specialists, who can then connect with others. This is creating a domino effect, which is powering the scale and collaboration of this project. 

The importance of collaboration

There is an unmet need amongst the partnership’s network of physicians: no one knows what causes autoimmune disease. This is because the technology to identify understand the function of individual cells – cellular genomics – has only recently become available and medicine and research teams tend to focus on one disease. 

As Professor Goodnow stresses, “You just can’t become a Jack-of-all-Trades. You really need these types of collaborations to bring all these experts together.”  Through the Hope Research project, the Triple I Clinical Academic Group is aiming to create excellence in immunology and autoimmune disease laboratory science. 

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