Scientists will share new ideas about the body and disease

Wednesday, August 27, 2008
By Joe Fahy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

More than 200 scientists from around the world will gather in Pittsburgh this weekend to consider research that challenges conventional theories about immunology, inflammation and their link to disease.

The Third International Damage Associated Molecular Pattern Molecules and Alarmins Symposium will be held Saturday through Tuesday at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Sessions will be held at the Herberman Conference Center at the UPMC Shadyside Cancer Pavilion.

The symposium is being held for the first time in the United States, organizers said. Two prior conferences on the topic were held in Europe.

Damage Associated Molecular Pattern Molecules, known as DAMPs, and alarmins are molecules in the body that promote healing after such events as heart attacks, stroke and car accidents. They promote a sterile inflammation that comes from inside cells, said Dr. Michael Lotze, director of strategic partnerships for the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and co-director of the symposium.

Inflammation is known to be associated with certain chronic diseases, he said. But in the past, the prevailing scientific notion was that pathogen-associated molecular patterns, or PAMPs, cause inflammation by activating the immune system when bacteria or other pathogens invade the body.

Scientists at the conference will present research linking the DAMPs' inflammatory response to chronic conditions like arthritis, obesity, atherosclerosis and cancer, Dr. Lotze said.

"We think a better understanding of these DAMPs could lead to development of modern preventive and therapeutic strategies for all of these diseases," he said.

Dr. Ronald Herberman, director of the Pitt cancer institute and UPMC Cancer Centers, said research interest in the topic has grown dramatically in recent years.

"This has been a major new paradigm that has been progressively accepted," he said. "I'm very optimistic the knowledge that's building so rapidly will be translated, in the not-too-distant future, to new lab tests and approaches to treatment."

Researchers at the symposium include Dr. Marco Bianchi, of the H. San Raffaele Scientific Institute in Milan; Dr. Polly Matzinger, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Dr. Ruslan Medzhitov, of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Yale University; and Dr. Shigekazu Nagata, of the Graduate School of Medicine at Kyoto University in Japan.

Others are Dr. Jeffrey Platt of the University of Michigan; Dr. Jean-Marc Reichhart of the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology in Strasbourg, France; and Dr. Anna Rubartelli, director of the Cell Biology Laboratory in Genova, Italy. She co-directs the symposium along with Drs. Lotze and Helena Harris of Sweden.

The symposium is sponsored by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Continuing Education in the Health Sciences, the Society of Innate Immunity, the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies, the National Cancer Institute, the Office of Orphan Diseases of the National Institutes of Health, the International Society for Biologic Therapy of Cancer and the Society of Leukocyte Biology.
Joe Fahy can be reached at or 412-263-1722.


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