Rare Daily Staff

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute is giving the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) $3.2 million to support research into the rare immune disease sarcoidosis.

Courtney Montgomery and her team at OMRF will use the four-year grant to determine the roles of specific immune cells associated with the disease.

Sarcoidosis is a poorly understood disease where cells in the immune system that cause inflammation overreact and cluster together to form tiny lumps called granulomas. These granulomas can form in the eyes, liver, skin, and brain. They are most often found in the lungs. The accumulation of these granulomas can impede the function of individual organs and lead to their failure.

Though sarcoidosis can afflict anyone, it disproportionately affects African Americans. Disease incidence has been reported as high as 39 in 100,000 among African Americans, compared to five in 100,000 for Caucasians. African Americans are also 10 times more likely to die from the condition than their European-American counterparts. There is no cure.

The disease gained some notoriety after it led to the deaths of actor-comedian Bernie Mac and NFL Hall of Fame defensive lineman Reggie White.

“Over the past several years, our team has led the charge to define the role of genetics in sarcoidosis,” said Montgomery. “However, there are still many unknowns at work in this complicated disease, and this funding will help us explore possible solutions to these unanswered questions.”

The grant will also be used to recruit new patients and healthy volunteers to collect samples for OMRF’s Sarcoidosis Research Unit, which began in 2018 and is the only one of its kind in the state.

“Our goal is to enroll 200 patients and match them with the same number of healthy controls—those without a sarcoidosis diagnosis,” said Montgomery. “Through this work, we hope to better characterize what exactly is going wrong in the body and discover what triggers the disease.”

Photo: Courtney Montgomery, a researcher at OMRF