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Pinpointing the Connectino between Cancer and Autoimmune Disease

By September 19, 2018No Comments

It might seem unlikely for scientists at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI), a research institute focused on causes and cures for autoimmune disease, to study cancer.

But this area of investigation is growing as researchers uncover links between autoimmune disease and the mechanisms that help cancer evade the immune system. If BRI can pinpoint how cancer cells prevent the immune system from attacking tumors, it could reveal ways to shut off the immune system attacks that cause autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. Scientists like Dr. Steve Ziegler and others in his lab are exploring these links – and BRI is building an infrastructure to help them make progress against both types of disease.

Dr. Ziegler spent years studying a hormone called thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP) and showing that it plays a key role in asthma and other allergic diseases. So when researchers discovered elevated TSLP levels in several different types of tumors, Dr. Ziegler opened a new line of research to determine whether TSLP also helps drive cancer.

“The bigger picture is that BRI studies the immune system and tries to understand why it veers off course,” says BRI President Jane Buckner, MD. “It’s a natural evolution for us to start looking at cancer, and at just about any other disorder that involves the immune system.”