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The NIH has awarded a $3.78 million, five-year grant to the Columbia University Autoimmunity Center of Excellence to continue basic research and clinical trials on new therapies for autoimmune diseases. Columbia's center, established in 1999 with an NIH-sponsored Center of Excellence grant, focuses both on the normal biology of the human immune system and the development of new therapies for autoimmune diseases.

"The goal of the Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence at Columbia is to help translate what's been a scientific revolution in immunology into direct clinical applications in the treatment of autoimmune diseases," says Dr. Leonard Chess, professor of medicine and director of the center. The Columbia center will focus initially on the development of novel approaches to studies of the pathogenesis and treatment of human Type 1 diabetes, systemic lupus erythematosus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma.

Dr. Chess says that two potential therapeutic drugs initially discovered at Columbia, the antibodies to CD40L and VLA-1, are currently being investigated in pre-clinical studies.

Moreover, a third novel approach employing anti-CD3 therapy is already being tested in clinical trials of Type 1 diabetes by Dr. Kevan Herold, associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia. Other key investigators directing projects in the Autoimmunity Center grant include Dr. Itamar Goldstein, associate research scientist in medicine; Dr. Robert Winchester, professor in pediatrics, medicine and pathology; and Dr. Hong Jiang, assistant professor of medicine.