In occasion of the International Day of Immunology, Humanitas presents the first Italian Center of Autoimmune and Inflammatory Diseases, dedicated to patients with disorders linked to their malfunctioning immune system. The mechanisms underlying immunity and inflammation are associated with a variety of diseases such as Crohn’s disease, bronchial asthma, psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, with annual incidence rates that are constantly increasing. Many of these very common diseases affect particularly women.
While advances have been made for these types of diseases in terms of treating their symptoms, much still needs to be understood about their origin. It is therefore essential that we continue to invest in research to be able to intervene before disease onset. “Thanks to a better understanding of the communication mechanisms of the immune system,” explains Prof. Alberto Mantovani, Scientific Director of Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University, “we have taken great steps forward in controlling autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Humanitas has played an important role thanks to the pre-clinical and clinical research we conduct. We still face many important challenges, for example personalized therapy, an integrated approach to patient care, developing new diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, and, above all, re-educating an immune system that mistakenly targets itself – a fundamental goal that cannot be achieved without research conducted both in the laboratory and at the patient’s bedside.”
Many diseases, an integrated care pathway
Patients who suffer from autoimmune and inflammatory diseases are often affected by more than just one disease. An integrated vision of the patient’s overall health is therefore essential, as is personalized, innovative diagnosis and treatment. Humanitas Immuno Center, conceived in the perspective of precision medicine, integrates research with the clinical skills and knowledge of Prof. Silvio Danese in gastroenterology, Prof. Giorgio Walter Canonica in Pulmonology and Allergology, Prof. Antonio Costanzo in dermatology, and Prof. Carlo Selmi in rheumatology.
The Center of Autoimmune and Inflammatory Diseases: joining clinical practice and research
The close connection between research and clinical practice makes it possible to quickly transfer the most recent discoveries from the laboratory to the patient’s bedside. For example, experiments on new markers to diagnose and monitor a disease allow patients easy, rapid access to new therapies for a number of diseases.
“Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases, for example,” comments Prof. Silvio Danese, head of the Chronic Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Center, and professor at Humanitas University, “share molecular mechanisms with inflammatory skin diseases and joint disorders. Understanding these complex mechanisms provides the basis for therapeutic innovation with biological agents, which make it possible to treat inflammation in different organs at the same time.” Patients with multi-organ inflammation are at a higher risk of comorbidity, making it essential to control inflammation by quelling it.
Skin and rheumatic diseases: why the patient is at the center
“Our skin signals a number of systemic diseases,” explains Prof. Antonio Costanzo, head of Dermatology of Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University, “and skin inflammation can promote the appearance of cardiovascular, rheumatologic, and respiratory diseases. This is why patients with inflammatory skin diseases such as psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, or urticaria must be managed by a dermatologist along with a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals.”
“Rheumatic diseases are often systemic, meaning that they can affect a number of organs,” explains Prof. Carlo Selmi, head of Rheumatology at Humanitas and professor at the Università degli Studi of Milan. “Patients with arthritis, for example, more frequently develop psoriasis, inflammatory bowel diseases and inflammatory lung diseases. It is therefore essential that these patients be at the center of a 360° comprehensive clinical approach to guarantee treatment that is more effective and personalized, thereby warding off any disability.”
“Modern pulmonology requires a multidisciplinary team to optimally manage patients with asthma or affected by other inflammatory lung diseases,” comments Prof. Giorgio Walter Canonica, head of the Personalized Medicine Center: Asthma and Allergies of Humanitas and professor at Humanitas University. “The pulmonologist-allergist applies Precision Medicine, which uses biological agents to target the mechanisms underlying the disease; these mechanisms are often the common origin of a number of diseases in different organs. Further, applying Personalized Medicine, which is patient-centered, makes the most of the contribution of the dermatologist, gastroenterologist, and rheumatologist.”
An eye on gender differences in diseases
Autoimmune and inflammatory diseases are more and more common and can be considered a paradigm of gender-related illnesses. An example is rheumatoid arthritis, whose incidence seven times higher in women than in men. The decision to open the Center confirms Humanitas’ desire to give special attention to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of women’s health issues. Humanitas has been awarded a pink ribbon from the O.N.Da, Osservatorio Nazionale sulla salute della Donna per il Progetto Ospedale Donna (Italian Observatory on Women’s Health) for three years in a row.
Some of the diseases the Center treats
Gastroenterology: inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, indeterminate colitis, and microscopic colitis (lymphocytic colitis, collagenous colitis, and eosinophilic colitis).
- Dermatology: psoriasis, atopic dermatitis in children and in adults, urticaria, hidradenitis suppurativa, scleroderma, cutaneous lupus and autoinflammatory diseases.
- Pulmonology: bronchial asthma, allergic inflammation, local and systemic eosinofilia (including polyposis), EGPA – Churg-strauss syndrome, mastocytosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
- Rheumatology: rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthritis (psoriatic and associated with IBD), and connective tissue diseases (lupus, systemic sclerosis, myositis, and Sjögren syndrome).