Research

The Michigan Medicine Scleroderma Program is first and foremost a research enterprise. Even in our clinical care, we seek to develop information that can be applied generally to all patients with scleroderma.

Our Program Works in Several Interconnected Areas

Basic and Translational Research

Truly effective treatments or even a cure will require exact understanding of the biology of the scleroderma disease process. The University of Michigan is an extraordinary research institution. Numerous projects of direct relevance to enhancing our understanding of scleroderma are in progress or in planning. Areas of research include sophisticated studies of the mechanisms of blood vessel injury, research into the biology of lung scarring, and investigations of the role of immune system and inflammatory cells as mediators of tissue injury. Good science leads to better care. “Bench to bedside” with pace and excellence!

Interventional Research

The person with scleroderma deserves nothing but the best in clinical research. We know if one treatment is truly better than another or if a treatment is better than doing nothing at all. We seek approaches that are truly “disease modifying” – arrest or reverse important features of the disease process or that have important effects on patient function, quality of life, and survival.

Outcome Measures

This is a dynamic field in scleroderma. Put simply, if one wishes to know whether or not a new treatment is effective, measuring its effects in an appropriate and accurate fashion is critical. Some features in scleroderma, for example – skin thickening – are known to improve spontaneously. Other issues, for example – lung scarring – often remain unchanged even with no specific treatments. The Michigan Medicine Scleroderma Program has active research in how to measure hand function, skin thickening, and various aspects of heart and lung disease. University of Michigan faculty also lead several large national and international projects focused on the natural history of disease and the utility of different measures of disease activity and severity.

Precision Medicine Research

Precision medicine, in which we treat an individual or a group of patients based on the specific molecular or genetic characteristics of their disease, holds the most promise for effectively treating and eventually curing scleroderma. To move in this direction, it is imperative that we develop the tools needed for precise disease classification and individualized therapies that will enable us to match the right treatment to each person.
 
The future of our work lies in the state-of-the-art Michigan Scleroderma Biorepository that is linked to our patient registry. A biorepository of detailed patient information and biological samples not only give us greater insight into the disease mechanisms to discover new and effective drugs, it also allows us to combine our vast scientific and academic resources to transition to more targeted approaches. Additionally, it facilitates the pursuit of in-depth research collaborations at Michigan Medicine, with peer academic medical centers, and with pharmaceutical partners seeking to discover and introduce safe and effective treatments into clinics.

Quality of Life Research

These are projects that address specific symptoms and features of scleroderma. Examples might include studies of novel treatments for Raynaud phenomenon or studies of the effectiveness of occupational therapy to preserve hand function. Assessment of potential treatments for lung disease is an ongoing focus.

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