UNMC researchers get $3 million grant to study airborne hazards

Jill A. Poole, M.D.
Staff portraits taken in the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science...
Jill A. Poole, M.D. Staff portraits taken in the Michael F. Sorrell Center for Health Science Education on Thursday, February 6, 2020.(Kent Sievers | University of Nebraska Medical Center)
Published: Nov. 6, 2021 at 11:44 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Researchers at the University of Nebraska Medical Center have received a $3 million, four-year grant from the U.S. Department of Defense to study the effect of airborne biohazards on military personnel, first responders, and veterans.

The research center says that they’ll be focusing on the impact of airborne biohazards specifically in the development of lung disease and associated autoimmunity.

UNMC states that the research team will explore the relationship of airborne hazards in developing rheumatoid arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis-lung disease to better understand the condition. One of their major goals is to create biomarkers to identify people at risk for the diseases and to explore targets for new therapeutic approaches.

The release says that during the four-year grant, researchers will gather information from the VA’s Rheumatoid Arthritis Registry that includes donated blood samples from patients. UNMC states that toxins implicated in the development of these diseases can be related to military-related exposures like burn pits, bacterial products, and military waste.

“In rheumatoid arthritis, inhalant toxins are strong disease risk factors in the development and severity of RA and strongly linked to lung diseases such as asthma, interstitial lung disease, emphysema, as well as inflammatory lung disease complicating RA,” said Jill Poole, MD, co-principal investigator of the grant and chief of the UNMC Department of Internal Medicine’s Division of Allergy and Immunology. “The combination from occupational exposure is not always well-known.”

Poole says this new research project will use a new mouse model and human studies to “investigate the mechanisms of the relationship of airborne hazard-induced respiratory health disease and rheumatoid arthritis.”

Dr. Mikuls, a rheumatologist -- a specialist who treats these patients with rheumatic diseases -- said lung involvement in rheumatoid arthritis is fairly common with about one in 10 patients experiencing significant interstitial lung disease -- diseases that cause scarring of the lungs.

UNMC states that arthritis is a leading cause of disability among U.S. military veterans and the second leading cause of medical discharge from the U.S. Army with one in three veterans diagnosed with arthritis, compared to one in four members of the general U.S. population.

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