NPF-Funded Research

Engineered Immunological Niche for Monitoring Psoriatic Arthritis

Aaron Morris

Principal Investigator: Aaron Morris, Ph.D.
The Regents of the University of Michigan

Grant Mechanism: Discovery Grant
Funding Amount: $75,000
Project Start Date: August 1, 2023
Project End Date: July 31, 2024
Status: Active
Keywords: Psoriatic Arthritis, Biomarkers, Disease Models, Gene Expression, Immunology, Inflammation, Basic Science

Project Summary:

Psoriaritic arthritis (PsA) is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes damage to and subsequent pain in joints and entheses (the tissue that connects bones to tendons and ligaments). It can be challenging to manage clinically, because there is a lack of definitive diagnostic tests, no curative treatments, and can be characterized by unpredictable periods of remission and relapse during treatment. Improved technologies to monitor patients could help diagnose disease earlier, improve the quality of treatments, and even help develop a deeper understanding of the underlying biology behind the disease. In this project, we propose to engineer an implantable system for monitoring PsA that is readily accessible.

How will your project help improve the lives of the 125 million affected by psoriatic disease?

Psoriaritic arthritis, a condition affecting 30% of psoriasis patients, results in damage to and subsequent pain in joints. It is challenging to diagnose, but early diagnosis and adequate monitoring of disease is critical to limit its severity. We aim to develop an entirely new method of monitoring psoriatic arthritis (PsA), and with the support of the Discovery Grant from the NPF will be able to take the first steps down this path. We plan to make tools that will enable improved monitoring/ diagnosis of PsA, lowering overall disease burden. Furthermore, access to previously unobtainable information may enable the eventual discovery of a cure for PsA.

Why is psoriatic disease research important to you, personally? What role will this award play in your research efforts or career development?

I have worked in the biomaterials and diagnostics space for several years, but have never studied psoriatic disease. With this award, we will be able to investigate and apply our platforms to monitoring psoriatic arthritis. In addition to helping patients, we will continue to build a fundamental understanding of how we can use biomaterials to assess immune responses and autoimmunity generally. This award will help to jumpstart the laboratory and provide a foundation for future funding and work on psoriatic disease. Furthermore, this award will support the growth of trainees in the lab and will bring new scientists into the field of psoriatic disease research.

Researcher Profile:

Dr. Aaron Morris heads the PRecision Immune MicroEnvironments (PRIME) Lab, which works at the intersection of biomaterials, immunology, and synthetic biology. The PRIME lab focuses on using engineered materials and cells as platforms to study immunology, diagnose disease, and develop therapeutics. In particular, we are interested in: i) developing materials to ask questions about immune function; ii) creating programmable materials/ cell-material constructs to enable responses to cues from the environment; and iii) engineering materials for applications in regenerative medicine. Our long-term vision is to develop non-invasive systems for monitoring and manipulating immunity within tissues.

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