UNC awarded $5 million NIH grant to explore disease that inflames blood vessels

CHAPEL HILL - A groundbreaking $5 million federal grant to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine could help researchers find the cause of an often debilitating blood vessel inflammation of the kidneys, lungs, skin, heart, and other organs.

The grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases will support a series of investigations into ANCA vasculitis, a disease encompassing several overlapping conditions of small blood vessel inflammation (including Wegener's granulomatosis).

"This grant will let us explore the cause of the disease so we can figure out a better treatment," said Ronald J. Falk, MD, professor of medicine at the university, nephrology division chief, and a pioneering vasculitis researcher.

Ten years ago, Falk and his Carolina colleague J. Charles Jennette, MD, professor of medicine and chair of pathology and laboratory medicine, were the first to suggest that specific antibodies found in patients with small vessel vasculitis were the disease triggers.

These are the two types of ANCA autoantibodies discovered about ten years ago, one by researchers in the Netherlands, the other by Falk and Jennette. ANCA means anti-neutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies.

In ANCA vasculitis, the body begins producing antibodies against specific components within neutrophils, which are leukocytes or white blood cells packed with potent infection-fighting granules. ANCA antibodies explode neutrophils, and when released, their granules help trigger inflammation.

"The disease is a 'kissing cousin' of another cause of vascular inflammation known as systemic lupus erythematosis, Falk said. "Each year, based on figures in the UK, ANKA vasculitis strikes an estimated six to ten people per million population. The UK figures apply to the United States, although ANCA vasculitis may, in fact, be more common here."

Why ANCA get produced, how they

Contact: Les Lang
University of North Carolina School of Medicine

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