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Autoimmune diseases are caused by the misdirection of an immune response toward the body's own tissues. The principal role of the immune system is to defend against infection. The body has safeguards to prevent the immune system from attacking its own tissues, but when these safeguards are breached, an autoimmune disease can result.
Collectively, autoimmune diseases afflict between 14 and 22 million Americans. Medical science has identified more than 80 clinically distinct autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's syndrome, multiple sclerosis, and chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Those suffering with autoimmune diseases often endure loss of function, disability, hospitalizations, outpatient visits, decreased productivity and impaired quality of life.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has created the Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence (ACEs) to encourage and enable collaborative research – across scientific disciplines, across medical specialties, and between basic and clinical scientists – in the search for effective treatments for autoimmune diseases. Cosponsored by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) and the NIH Office of Research on Women's Health (ORWH), ACEs supports an integrated basic and clinical research program that focuses on treatment or prevention approaches that induce immune tolerance or modulate the immune system. The program brings together basic scientists and clinicians from leading research institutions to evaluate the safety and efficacy of treatment strategies for autoimmune diseases. ACEs investigators also explore the immune mechanisms underlying the agents evaluated in these trials – research that commonly is not included in other clinical trial programs.
The Centers that make up the ACE program will conduct clinical trials and basic research on new immune-based therapies for autoimmune diseases. This program will enhance interactions between scientists and clinicians in order to accelerate the translation of research findings into medical applications.
ACEs is advancing the search for effective treatments through:
By promoting better coordination and communication, and enabling limited resources to be pooled, ACEs is one of NIAID’s primary vehicles for both expanding our knowledge and improving our ability to effectively prevent and treat autoimmune diseases. "This coordinated approach incorporates key recommendations of the NIH Autoimmune Diseases Research Plan and will ensure progress in identifying new and highly effective therapies for autoimmune diseases", says Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the lead institution funding ACE. The ACE program is a cooperative effort of NIAID, the ORWH, and the NIDDK, all of which are components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).