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UAMS researchers receive grant to study post-polio syndrome

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Press Release

UAMS Medical Center

A team of researchers at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) has received a $25,000 grant to help create a more definitive diagnosis of post-polio syndrome (PPS).

The grant was awarded by Post-Polio Health International of St. Louis to a team led by principal investigator Rahnuma Wahid, Ph.D., a postdoctoral research scientist in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the UAMS College of Medicine.

The team includes Marie Chow, Ph.D., a professor in the Departments of Microbiology and Immunology, and Pathology, and Katalin Pocsine, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology.

The researchers hope to determine whether there is a unique signature, or disease biomarker, in the immune system of individuals with post-polio syndrome (PPS) that would enable a more definitive diagnosis of PPS.

PPS is a slowly progressive neurodegenerative disease that occurs many years later in many people who have had polio. The causes of PPS are unknown, but it is characterized primarily by new muscle weakness and eventually new paralysis.

“We are very grateful to PHI for their support of this research,” said Wahid. “Although the research is in its very early stages and our initial results need to be rigorously tested in a much larger group, a biomarker for PPS should enable a more rapid and more definitive diagnosis of this debilitating disease.”

Biomarkers are biological measures found associated with specific diseases. They are useful because they can assist in disease diagnosis or provide a means of monitoring disease development and progression.

The researchers at UAMS recently detected the increased presence of a distinct immune cell population in the blood of individuals with PPS, although the number of donors examined was small. The detected cells represent a recently described subtype of T cells, known as regulatory T cells (Tregs).

The research award from Post-Polio Health International will fund a small pilot study to determine whether development of PPS is associated with increased numbers of Tregs and whether the Tregs found in people with PPS have different properties from those found in healthy people.

“Because available treatments for PPS are limited, finding a definitive test for PPS would not only help with a diagnosis but would also help develop potentially more effective therapies,” said Joan L. Headley, executive director of Post-Polio Health International.

A definitive diagnosis of PPS is difficult because it is based on past medical history of polio, which may be lost or incomplete, or dependent on recall. The diagnosis is complex and unreliable because many symptoms of PPS overlap those of other diseases, including osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism and a number of neurological conditions.

Post-Polio Health International’s Research Fund was established in 1995 to seek scientific information leading to eventual amelioration of the consequences of poliomyelitis and/or neuromuscular respiratory diseases. This is the fourth grant to be awarded. Reports on other research studies can be found by visiting www.post-polio.org and clicking on Research.

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