Pediatric Autoimmune Disease Research

Current Research

Only a small fraction of today’s pediatric treatments were developed for – or tested in – children. This means physicians must give children therapies that were designed for adults. But children’s developing minds and bodies have unique needs and are uniquely vulnerable to side effects.

Our goal is to develop therapies that are tailored to children and teens with autoimmune diseases – therapies that are more effective than current treatments, with fewer side effects.

Our research includes:

Juvenile Diabetes Research

Diabetes occurs when the body’s immune cells turn against it and attack the pancreas. Drs. David Rawlings and Andrew Scharenberg are using gene editing to engineer regulatory cells that could halt these attacks – a groundbreaking approach that could lead to cures.

Searching for Genes That Cause Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Troy Torgerson and others are working to sequence the DNA of children with multiple sclerosis (MS). Their goal is to identify which genes work together to cause the disease, opening the door to gene therapies that could cure it. The goal is to correct the genes so the immune system behaves normally.

Searching for Genes That Cause Autoimmunity

Regulatory T cells police the immune system and tell other immune cells when to calm down and call off their attacks. Torgerson and his colleagues discovered that a variety of mutations in the gene FOXP3 can stop the body from producing regulatory T cells, triggering a severe autoimmune condition called immune dysregulation polyendocrinopathy enteropathy X-linked (IPEX).

Now Torgerson’s team is sequencing the genes of patients who have IPEX-like symptoms but don’t have FOXP3 mutations. The researchers hope to identify other gene mutations that affect regulatory T cells. This could lead to insights about the fundamental causes of many autoimmune disorders.

Food Allergy Research

Our researchers are investigating links between autoimmunity and food allergies. We are part of the Seattle Food Allergy Consortium (SeaFac), a collaboration that studies what causes food allergies and tests new treatments. These treatments include a patch that delivers a peanut protein into the skin of people with peanut allergies. The goal is to train the immune system to develop a tolerance for peanuts.

SeaFac unites our researchers with investigators from the University of Washington, the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, the ASTHMA Inc. Clinical Research Center and the Northwest Asthma and Allergy Center.