COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A national task force of basic researchers and clinicians spent 18 months assessing what is known about autoimmune diseases and has now proposed an aggressive research agenda aimed at understanding why men and women respond differently to these illnesses
Their report, published in this week's issue of the journal Science, recommends five distinct research areas which may explain these differences and perhaps, even offer new treatments against the diseases. A longer companion report is available at Science's website.
The human immune system normally swings into action to fight an invading bacteria, virus or toxin. But in autoimmune diseases, the body's immune system begins to attack normal, healthy tissue instead. Rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus and multiple sclerosis are all important autoimmune diseases that affect men and women differently.
But just what causes these differences in symptoms, disease severity, incidence, remission and other factors isn't clear. Nearly 79 percent of the 8.5 million autoimmune disease patients in the country are women. Twice to three times as many women get multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis each year, compared to men, and for systemic lupus erythematosus, women outnumber men nine to one.
"One of the big problems we faced was that very few people do studies that are specifically directed at differences between the sexes regarding these diseases," explained Caroline Whitacre, professor of medical microbiology and immunology at Ohio State University and chair of the task force. "Often in papers dealing with immunology, you can't tell the sex of the patients, based on reading the article."
The group of 15 scientists, convened Patricia O'Looney and Stephen
Reingold of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, first reviewed more than 75
different papers in the scientific literature. From that and numerous
Contact: Caroline Whitacre
Ohio State University