A state-of-the-art genomics project to uncover gene expression patterns that contribute to the development of pediatric arthritis has been launched by the Children's Hospital Medical Center of Cincinnati and funded by the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), the Arthritis Foundation Ohio River Valley Chapter (AF ORVC) and the Fifth Third Bank Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trust.

By using DNA microarrays--small silicon chips that contain tiny amounts of thousands of known genes--to carry out a technique called gene expression profiling, David Glass, M.D., and his colleagues at the Children's Hospital Medical Center will analyze thousands of genes in the blood, fluids and tissues of children newly diagnosed with various types of pediatric rheumatic diseases such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), juvenile ankylosing spondylitis (spinal arthritis), and related immune disorders. Identifying gene expression patterns--groups of genes that are "turned on"--for different types of childhood arthritis will help to improve diagnosis and to predict disease severity for affected children.

Gene expression data from four related projects will be stored in a tissue repository and analyzed in a gene informatics center. Storage and analysis of genetic information will help to create a large-scale database that will be a key factor in identifying disease pathways and developing new therapies for pediatric rheumatic diseases. "By making the national genome expression database available to the entire scientific community, Children's Hospital will accelerate research discoveries in pediatric arthritis," said Stephen I. Katz, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIAMS.

All four projects will collect and compare gene expression profiles for one or more types of childhood arthritis. Project 1 will involve children with pauciarticular (four or fewer joints affected) and polyarticular (five or more joints affected) juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Project 2 will collect samples from children with systemic onset JRA (involving one or more joints and inflammation of internal organs) and polyarticular JRA. Project 3 will gather data on ankylosing spondylitis, and project 4 will focus on children with systemic onset JRA and other related immune system disorders.

The NIAMS will provide $1 million per year to the Children's Hospital Medical Center over the five-year project period. The AF ORVC and the Fifth Third Bank Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trust will contribute a total of $1.2 million over the five-year project period.

"The level of community support for this program project is outstanding," said Susana Serrate-Sztein, M.D., director of the NIAMS Rheumatic Diseases Branch. "This partnership will allow researchers to analyze the genes of children with pediatric rheumatic diseases on a scale that has never before been possible."

Juvenile rheumatic disease is an umbrella term for all types of childhood arthritis or rheumatic disease. Symptoms of these childhood diseases may include pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints as well as in muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones and skin. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is the most common type of arthritis in children. Doctors classify JRA into three types based on the number of joints affected: pauciarticular, polyarticular and systemic. Preserving a high level of physical and social functioning and maintaining a good quality of life are treatment goals for all pediatric rheumatic diseases.

The NIAMS is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's National Institutes of Health (NIH).

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The mission of the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), a part of the Department of Health and Human Services' National Institutes of Health (NIH), is to support research into the causes, treatment and prevention of arthritis and musculoskeletal and skin diseases, the training of basic and clinical scientists to carry out this research, and the dissemination of information on research progress in these diseases. The NIAMS Clearinghouse is a public service sponsored by the Institute that provides health information and resources. Additional material can be found on the NIAMS Web site at www.niams.nih.gov.

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