Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sabrina Scroggins, a Dean’s Graduate Fellow in the Immunology Interdisciplinary Graduate Program, is conducting research she hopes will one day enable more people to receive transplants.

Sometimes, when a patient undergoes a transplant, his body will reject the tissue or the tissue could reject the body. Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a condition in which a transplanted tissue from a donor to a recipient attacks the recipient’s body.

This disease can occur in about 25 percent of young patients and as many as 70 percent of older patients in their 50s and 60s. Researchers are not sure what triggers GVHD or why it occurs more frequently and with increased severity in older patients. “There are a lot of individuals on the front end who are just not allowed to have transplants and are not good candidates because of age factors and other risk factors,” Scroggins said. “And if we can find a treatment that really works within that population, this may open the door for more individuals to get transplants.”

The research trials are conducted with mice models, laying the ground work for understanding the disease and eventually gaining a better understanding of the human body’s reaction to it. Scroggins is currently testing a treatment protocol that increases the survival rate while decreasing GVHD-associated deaths.

The treatment has improved the mortality rate of the mice by 90 percent. Scroggins is beginning work with human cells to see if they will respond with similar results.

Scroggins enjoys the research process. “I’m a very hands-on person,” she said, adding, “I want to know I’m making some type of difference within a reasonable amount of time.”

She connects with her patients, though not directly, through her mentor, Annette Schlueter, a physician at UI Hospitals and Clinics. Such connections with patients add to her sense of satisfaction with her work. “Through translational research, I am able to know what is going on with them. I have the ties I wouldn’t get elsewhere,” she said. “It makes it feel like a complete picture.”