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June 22, 2019

Penn professors receive $4.5 million grant for new autoimmune disease research center

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A trio of professors at the University of Pennsylvania received a $4.5 million grant this month to establish a new clinical center, which will focus on researching and understanding autoimmune diseases.

The new center will be called an Autoimmunity Center of Excellence, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian. The National Institute of Health says the ACE program was founded in 1999 to "accelerate the discovery and translation from lab to clinic of therapies for autoimmune diseases."

The Penn ACE will be the fifth Clinical Research ACE site in the country, along with sites in Oklahoma City, the University of Michigan, Boston, and Manhasset, New York. There are also five Basic Research ACE sites across the country.

The $4.5 million grant itself comes from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and will allow Penn professors to study human participants, rather than just patient samples.

Dr. Aimee Payne, an associate professor of dermatology, will serve as the ACE's administrative director. The center will include professors with concentrations in dermatology, neurology, and pathology to study the role of B cells in autoimmune diseases, according to the Daily Pennsylvanian.

One of the ACE's first two clinical trials will study pemphigus vulgaris, an autoimmune disease which causes blistering of skin and mucus membranes. The second trial will study Ocrelizumab, a medication which treats multiple sclerosis, but also leaves patients at risk for infection.

According to the official Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence website, autoimmune diseases affect between 14 and 22 million Americans, and more than 80 clinically distinct autoimmune diseases have been identified.

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