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November 24, 2021

With $10 million gift, Penn Medicine establishes Colton Center for Autoimmunity

Researchers will collaborate to advance new treatments for conditions that are on the rise in the U.S.

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Wherry Penn Autoimmunity Courtesy/Penn Medicine

E. John Wherry, an immunologist at Penn Medicine, will serve as the director of the new Colton Center for Autoimmunity. The research center will focus on developing treatments for autoimmune diseases and will collaborate with existing Colton Centers at New York University and Yale University.

Autoimmune diseases affect more than 23.5 million Americans — primarily women — who suffer from diseases such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease and type 1 diabetes.

The National Institutes of Health highlighted research last year showing that autoimmunity, a condition in which the body's immune system attacks healthy cells, appears to be on the rise in the United States. Men, adolescents and older adults are among the groups who increasingly possess genetic traits associated with the development of autoimmune diseases.

This month, Penn Medicine received a $10 million gift to create the Colton Center for Autoimmunity, a research facility that will aim to advance scientific understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autoimmunity. The research center will be the third of its kind in the U.S. and will collaborate with two existing Colton Centers at New York University and Yale University.

At Penn Medicine, the Colton Center will build on research and patient care programs across the health system, including the Institute for Immunology that currently serves as the world's largest single-institution immunology community.

"The new Colton Center at Penn brings together multidisciplinary experts across autoimmunity, immunology, bioinformatics and beyond," said E. John Wherry, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology and the new Colton Center. "What's more, the center provides an opportunity to collaborate with other leading experts through the Colton Centers at NYU and Yale, allowing us to capitalize on driving advances in autoimmune disease research, beyond what one university can accomplish alone."

A major focus of the new Colton Center will be the development of new therapies. The center will award pilot grants to spur research among physician-scientists and provide scholarship and fellowship opportunities to leaders who can help train a new generation invested in advancing the treatment of autoimmune diseases.

Among young and middle-aged women, autoimmune diseases represent a leading cause of death in the United States and have been shown in studies to increase the risk of death from COVID-19.

The gift received by Penn Medicine to establish the new center came from philanthropists Judy and Stewart Colton, who have supported a range of causes from medical research to to conservation and the arts over the last several decades.

"We hope this joint effort across all three world-renowned institutions — NYU, Yale and Penn — will not only accelerate awareness for autoimmunity, but drive further innovative research for autoimmune diseases, which may help advance prevention and treatments for these types of diseases," the Coltons said of their gift.

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