Grom-Thornton Lab

  • Grom / Thornton Lab Research

    The Alexei Grom, MD / Sherry Thornton, PhD, Lab

    Our lab’s main area of interest is juvenile arthritis. Specifically, we study the pathogenesis of rheumatic conditions such as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and macrophage activation syndrome (MAS), a complication of JIA. Our work includes a strong translational component; along with studying the mechanisms behind these conditions, we are researching potential biomarker and imaging techniques that could accelerate the diagnosis and treatment process.

    Alexei Grom’s research is exploring the pathways responsible for the increased incidence of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) in systemic JIA. MAS, a potentially fatal complication of JIA, is an inflammatory reaction driven by excessive activation and expansion of T cells (mainly CD8+), and hemophagocytic macrophages (see figure). Treatment of MAS is not always successful, due in part to the difficulty of distinguishing it from sepsis. Not surprisingly, MAS remains one of the major causes of morbidity and mortality in pediatric rheumatology.

    There is a strong need for biomarkers that would help identify systemic JIA patients at risk for the development of MAS, as well as reliable laboratory tests that would assist with the early diagnosis of MAS. This would allow for timely treatment modifications to prevent progression of MAS to the life-threatening stage. Our team hopes that by better understanding MAS’s pathophysiology, we can overcome a major hurdle in the development of an effective biomarker.

    Sherry Thornton’s research focuses on understanding the pathogenesis of arthritis using mouse models. We are particularly interested in finding and functionally evaluating targets for the treatment of rheumatic disease, with a particular interest in the role of angiogenesis. Our research has shown that angiopoietin-like 4 (Angptl4) plays a functional role in autoimmune arthritis; now, we are beginning to understand how this angiogenic factor contributes to the pathogenesis of both human and mouse arthritis.

    Another of our major interests is the use of reagents to label inflammatory cells for visualization as a potential clinical tool, and for evaluation of cell types during the course of disease in animal models.  Along with Dr. Grom, our laboratory has played an important role in analyzing cell types in samples from JIA and control populations and identifying the gene expression profiles from these samples.

 
  • Basic Research

    Our basic science research focuses on the discovery and understanding of gene expression profiles in MAS and animal models of arthritis, and flow cytometric profiles for MAS and other JIA subtypes.

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  • Translational Research

    Our translational research seeks to uncover biomarkers for MAS and understand its effect on cell function. We also investigate novel imaging agents to assess rheumatic disease.

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