Penn Vet doctors receive NIH grant to target canine autoimmune diseaseThe pair are looking to evaluate a genetically engineered cell-based therapy to treat dogs with pemphigus October 4, 2018 Aimee S. Payne, MD, PhD, the Albert M. Kligman associate professor of dermatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Nicola J. Mason, BVetMed, PhD, associate professor of medicine and pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, recipients of the National Institutes of Health Director’s Transformative Research Award. Photo courtesy University of Pennsylvania Nicola J. Mason, BVetMed, PhD, and Aimee S. Payne, MD, PhD, have received the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Transformative Research Award, part of the institute’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research program, for their work in targeting autoimmune disease in dogs. Under the grant, Drs. Mason and Payne are looking to evaluate a genetically engineered cell-based therapy to treat dogs with naturally occurring autoimmune skin disease known as pemphigus. Dogs are one of the few other species to develop pemphigus, a condition that mirrors pemphigus in human patients. Evaluation of this approach to treat pet dogs with the disease may ultimately lead to breakthrough therapies for humans. According to the Autoimmune Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins, at least 10 million Americans suffer from the more than 80 illnesses caused by autoimmunity. “The successful treatment of autoimmunity in the family dog using this unique approach would not only be a breakthrough in veterinary medicine, but could also change the way autoimmune disease is treated in humans,” said Mason, associate professor of medicine and pathobiology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at Penn Vet. “We believe that this work may facilitate the translation of cellular immunotherapies for a broad range of canine and human diseases, including autoimmunity, transplant rejection, infectious disease, and cancer.” Mason and Payne will continue to focus on their novel gene-engineered chimeric autoantibody receptor T cell (CAART) immunotherapy and its potential to cause lasting remission of antibody-mediated disease. “Our study of CAART immunotherapy in companion dogs with naturally occurring autoimmune disease will be synergistic with our efforts to develop similar human therapies,” said Payne, the Albert M. Kligman associate professor of dermatology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “By comparing how these complex cellular immunotherapies work in dogs versus humans, we will better understand how to engineer and deliver these therapies to potentially cure disease.” For the past 10 years, Mason, a board-certified veterinary internist and immunologist, has been actively involved in evaluating the immunological responses of immune-based therapies in dogs suffering from lymphoma, osteosarcoma, and hemangiosarcoma. Her research laboratory is currently developing CAR-T cell therapies for dogs with B cell lymphoma, and she serves as the PI and lead investigator on the first clinical trial evaluating CAR-T cell therapies in dogs.