The Allen Institute today announced the launch of the Allen Institute for Immunology, a new division of the Institute that is dedicated to studying the human immune system.

The new Institute will work directly with the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and other leading research organizations to understand the dynamic balancing act of the human immune system, how it senses friend from foe and what goes wrong when we're ill.

The Allen Institute for Immunology's goal is to improve human immune health and lay the groundwork for better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent immune-related diseases.

In its initial phase, the Institute will focus on studies of two cancers, multiple myeloma, and melanoma, and three autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease, specifically, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease.

The researchers will also take a deep dive into the immune systems of healthy volunteers with the goal of understanding what makes a "normal" immune baseline and how to help patients return to that healthy state.

"By unraveling the mysteries of the dynamic immune system in healthy individuals and focusing the same cutting-edge tools on patients in various disease states, we believe we will find new ways to diagnose and ultimately treat disease," said Thomas F. Bumol, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Allen Institute for Immunology.

Immune-based illnesses

"We are looking at problems that have large unmet needs. Patients are not only suffering from these immune-based illnesses, but patients are also dying from some of these disorders, and we would like to change that," said Bumol.

Kevin Deane, M.D., Ph.D., and Michael Holers, M.D., investigators at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, will lead a collaboration with colleagues at the University of California San Diego.

The fundamental goal of the research program is to identify novel mechanisms by which rheumatoid arthritis develops so that the disease can be halted before symptoms begin, and if not, reversed to the normal state once arthritis begins.

This goal will be pursued by studying the immune changes that occur during two phases in the evolution of rheumatoid arthritis. The first phase is the transition from a normal immune baseline to the development of asymptomatic autoimmunity that is characterized by the presence of highly predictive autoantibodies in association with mucosal inflammation at several sites, including the lung and gut.

The second phase is the transition from this asymptomatic autoimmune state to the development of joint inflammation and injury which is when patients initially experience pain and arthritis.

"This important new partnership with the Allen Institute for Immunology will allow us to use the most advanced cutting-edge technologies to dissect on a molecular level this debilitating disease," said Dr. Holers, Chief of the Division of Rheumatology.

"We will be able to build on nearly 18 years of work by our research group to learn how to find individuals on their way to developing rheumatoid arthritis and work to understand and stop this process. We are very pleased to join this innovative Institute begun through the vision of Paul Allen," said Dr. Holers.

Adds Dr. Deane, "With these approaches, and consistent with the long-term view of the Allen Institute for Immunology, we hope these efforts in rheumatoid arthritis, as well as the other diseases studied across the Allen Institute for Immunology, will in the near future be applied to the study and prevention of other autoimmune diseases."

The Allen Institute for Immunology will build off the model of large-scale team science established by the Allen Institute's other research divisions and will work directly with samples and data from patients and healthy volunteers, thanks to a unique partnership with established research organizations.