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Pitt Research Finds New Protein, Could Lead to New Drug to Fight Inflammation

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine have discovered a new biological pathway, or protein, that ramps up inflammation. They also have identified agents that can block it.

This could be effective in fighting the damaging inflammation that results from conditions such and pneumonia.

“One of the problems in pneumonia and other types of inflammation in the body is that often the tissue is destroyed because there is overwhelming inflammation," said senior author Dr. Rama Mallampalli, director of the university's Acute Lung Injury Center of Excellence. "What we found is that this protein is very important in terms of driving or promoting this inflammatory response, leading to injury in the lung.”

Through the process of studying the protein, researchers were also able to design and synthesize a small molecule or drug that was able to block the protein and decrease inflammation.

“This small molecule, at least in rodents, was shown to be effective in improving the pneumonia and improving the survival of those animals,” Mallampalli said.

The discovery could have an impact on other conditions driven by robust or active inflammatory response such as colitis and arthritis. Medications currently on the market would not be effective for this newly-discovered protein.

“Ibuprofen and the related type of current anti-inflammatories usually target other pathways and other proteins and other pathways in the body,” Mallampalli said. “This is a brand new pathway and a new opportunity to design a family of agents that work in a different manner.”

Next steps in development include more safety testing. How the drug is metabolized and taken up in the human body will also be examined, and eventually application will be made to the FDA for human studies.

That process could take more than three years. The findings were reported Monday in Nature Immunology.