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Childhood Arthritis

The Childhood Arthritis group group aims to better understand how nature (genes) and nurture (environment) come together to determine a person's risk of developing disease. The group focuses on childhood immune disorders, primarily juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), for three reasons.

Firstly, we know that genes are involved in JIA. Secondly the occurrence of child immune disorders has increased at such a rate that this cannot be due only to genetic changes, but must also be due to changes in the environment. Thirdly, it is much easier to collect accurate information about environment from conception to disease onset from children and their families, than from adults where recall can be a significant issue.

Through its research, the group strives to better understand what causes JIA and also the ways in which genes and environment interact to cause human disease, particularly in childhood.

Group Leaders: 
Group Members: 
Raul Chavez
Role: 
PhD candidate/ Research Assistant
Rachel Chiaroni-Clarke
Role: 
PhD candidate
Susan Matthyz-Rosa
Role: 
Administrative Assistant
Angela Lamantia
Role: 
Research Associate
Amanda Hawker
Role: 
Research Assistant

The interaction of genes and environment in JIA
In this National Health and Medical Research Council-funded project (2012-2014) the group aims to identify environmental factors which increase a child's risk of developing juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Researchers are focusing especially on the role of vitamin D and sun exposure, given growing evidence that this factor affects risk of developing other autoimmune diseases including multiple sclerosis. The researchers will then aim to determine how those factors interact with known JIA genes to better understand the ways in which 'nature and nurture' come together to cause disease.

The role of epigenetics in JIA
This project, supported by the Australian Research Council from 2012 to 2016, aims to discover whether epigenetic marks, specifically DNA methylation, are different in children with JIA (cases) compared to their healthy peers (controls). The team are currently looking at methylation in CD4+ T cells of cases with active disease, but will soon extend these analyses longitudinally to samples collected at birth, at diagnosis, and across the course of disease. They will also determine whether differences in gene methylation between cases and controls correlate with differences in gene expression.

The Paediatric AutoImmune Disease (PAID) platform
This collaborative project brings together researchers on campus studying paediatric autoimmune diseases, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, type 1 diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and multiple sclerosis. Biospecimens (plasma, viably stored peripheral blood mononuclear cells, DNA) and environmental data are collected across cases for each disease in a harmonised fashion. A healthy child control sample is similarly collected, and shared amongst participating diseases as a comparison group. The overall aim of the PAID platform is to create a paediatric autoimmune disease research resource that will enable the discovery of genetic, epigenetic and environmental risk factors specific to each disease, along with identifying those risk factors common across diseases.