Our group is going to be focusing on autoimmune disorders as they are becoming increasingly common in society with each passing year. Due to environmental factors and society’s evolving mass-production based diet, the prevalence of disorders found in patients from as mild as a lactose intolerance to as severe as type 1 diabetes is increasing rapidly. Type 1 diabetes rose 23% from the year 2001 to 2009. Quite simply, the main goal researchers are working towards is how to convince an overactive immune system to calm down. The primary treatment options today don’t usually involve getting the immune system to behave correctly, but instead most autoimmune care simply makes your immune system weaker. Therefore, the immune response is not as bad, but the individual is now more susceptible to other diseases and viruses. We are not entirely sure why some people acquire autoimmune diseases and others don’t, but there are some identifying patterns: women tend to have them more than men at a rate of about 2 to 1, Caucasians are less likely to have lupus than Hispanic and African American people, and autoimmune diseases are often genetic.
I have a personal attachment to autoimmune diseases as my brother, Sam, was diagnosed last year with a mild case of multiple sclerosis: a disorder in which your immune system attacks the Myelin sheath and oligendrocyte cells surrounding and protecting your peripheral and central nervous system. A year before Sam was diagnosed I did a research project in which I created a theoretical cure for MS. My cure included using the theoretical process of gene editing to reprogram the cells of the Myelin sheath to regenerate after a negative immune response as those responses for MS patients can be incredibly disabling for weeks to months at a time. Luckily, Sam is not likely to ever become extremely disabled from his disease, but 50% of all MS patients will need help walking about 15 years after their diagnoses. Gene editing will not only help fix the problem, but it will also help identify the problem in the first place as autoimmune diseases are notoriously hard to diagnose. Another autoimmune disorder we will be looking at is rheumatoid arthritis which attacks your joints and can cause mild to severe immobility. Autoimmune diseases are very important to study and try to cure as developing cures for people whose immune systems do not work properly can also lead us to develop ways to make healthy immune systems even stronger.