COMBINE Scientific Meeting, Karolinska University Hospital, October 2011

Text by: Aurélie Ambrosi 



On October 17th, 2011, 80 scientists gathered for the annual COMBINE scientific meeting, held at the Karolinska University Hospital in Stockholm. Created in 2008, the COMBINE initiative represents a network of scientists, patients, clinicians and industrial partners joined in a multidisciplinary effort to improve the current understanding and treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases. The program of the annual scientific meeting reflected the diversity of the approaches supported by COMBINE, with topics ranging from basic experimental research to care science, from animal models to human biology and from genetics to cellular immunology.

Understanding the mechanisms that underlie inflammatory and autoimmune responses, as well as identifying genetic and environmental factors that contribute to disease is crucial to the development of effective therapies and improvement of disease prevention and patient care. The translational approach taken by COMBINE to address these issues was well illustrated in the various presentations of the meeting. In several short talks focusing on rheumatoid arthritis, the COMBINE scientists exemplified how pieces of information gathered from different areas of research can converge to build an ever more refined picture of how disease develops. Most patients with rheumatoid arthritis have autoantibodies directed towards self-proteins that are modified with a specific amino acid called citrulline. The use of animal models, biobanks and basic cellular and molecular techniques allows scientists to investigate when these antibodies occur, how they may contribute to disease, and how they associate with certain genetic components and environmental factors, such as smoking.
In parallel to the basic research focused on understanding how chronic inflammatory diseases develop, another major goal of COMBINE is to improve the management of patients with established disease. A substantial part of this area is of course the development of new drugs, but COMBINE is also dedicated to the advancement of patient care in general, as was reflected in several presentations focusing on the interactions between patients and health care providers. Whether discussing ways of facilitating such interactions, describing how to identify specific needs or researching and implementing new types of interventions, speakers highlighted the importance of the cooperation between patients, medical staff and researchers to keep improving the management of patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.

Bridging the gaps between the academic sphere, the health care system and the industry, the COMBINE initiative exemplifies the benefits that can be gained from a close interaction and a rapid transfer of knowledge between these different partners. The next COMBINE scientific meeting will take place in the autumn of 2012 and will mark the last year of the 5-year support the program received from the six Swedish Research organizations Vinnova, Vårdalstiftelsen, Reumatikerförbundet, Invest in Sweden Agency, KK-stiftelsen and Stiftelsen för strategisk forskning. 

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