The research conducted by Veena Taneja, Ph.D., centers on understanding the role of the immune system in the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), with special emphasis on the differences in disease severity and in responses to therapy between men and women. Dr. Taneja's research team uses transgenic mice with a humanized immune system (HLA) to answer these questions.
One goal for Dr. Taneja's team is to discover biomarkers that can predict a person's susceptibility to RA or that would guide how to best manage a patient's disease. Using their mouse models, Dr. Taneja's team has found significant differences in the immune systems of males and females that suggest ways to individualize treatments for patients with RA or other immune-related diseases.
Dr. Taneja's research has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, among others.
- Individualized medicine for arthritis. Dr. Taneja's research has shown that B cells and dendritic cells in the immune systems of female and male mice differ in how they present antigen during an immune reaction. However, current clinical guidelines for treating patients with RA do not take these differences into account. Dr. Taneja's research will inform future studies of immune-targeted therapies in a sex-specific manner and help determine B cell and dendritic cell biomarkers to guide individualized treatments for patients.
- Impact of environment. Smoking increases a person's risk of developing severe forms of RA. Sunlight and vitamin D status are also important factors affecting one's risk of RA. Understanding how and why these and other environmental factors impact RA will help doctors identify at-risk individuals and consider whether early interventions may help patients avoid cartilage damage and subsequent joint deformities. These research studies ask:
- How does each environment factor impact immune responses?
- Can sunlight and vitamin D supplements alleviate severity of disease?
- Does smoking affect the disease process differently in men and women?
- Gut microbiota. The intestinal tract (gut) contains good and bad bacteria; good bacteria help us in digestion while bad bacteria can cause inflammation. Using state-of-the-art technology, Dr. Taneja and her team have shown that an imbalance in good to bad bacteria contributes to disease. Dr. Taneja and her team are conducting preclinical studies to determine whether human gut-derived commensal bacteria can be used to treat arthritis patients. If successful, these types of therapies promise to be novel and revolutionary for arthritis and many other diseases.
- Longevity, HLA genes and autoimmunity. HLA genes are critical for immune responses to pathogens, and certain HLA genes are also associated with longevity. Incidence of autoimmune diseases increases with aging. Dr. Taneja and her research team are using new molecular technologies to study 1) what biomarkers change with age and that might predict a severe disease, and 2) what immune response pathways are associated with healthy aging.
- Myocarditis and dilated cardiomyopathy. Cardiovascular diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy are the major cause of death in young people. RA patients also have an increased incidence of cardiovascular diseases. Using humanized mouse models, Dr. Taneja and her colleagues are trying to dissect the factors that link autoimmune arthritis and cardiovascular disease.
Significance to patient care
Through her research, Dr. Taneja hopes to find answers to questions such as:
- Why do only some patients with RA benefit from B cell depletion therapy?
- Why are women more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases?
- Can immune response pathways of B cells and dendritic cells be used as biomarkers to predict disease severity?
- Will patients benefit from treatment with good bacteria found in the gut of a healthy person?
- Can analysis of gut flora be used to determine whether a person is healthy?
- Can we define biomarkers that will define healthy aging?
- Can a balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut resolve disease?
Dr. Taneja and her team are undertaking preclinical studies to answer these questions.
- Editorial Advisory Board, The Open Rheumatology Journal
- Section Editor (Immunological Disorders), Drug Discovery Today, 2004
- Hulda Irene Duggan Arthritis Investigator, Arthritis Foundation, 2000
- Pfizer Shovell Award for Experimental Biology, 2004