HomeUnderstanding PANDAS and PANS | A Comprehensive Resource GuidePANDAS StoriesYour Donations at Work: $50K Awarded to Stanford University Researcher, Noor Hussein, Ph.D.

Your Donations at Work: $50K Awarded to Stanford University Researcher, Noor Hussein, Ph.D.

Thanks to the support of our donors, the PANDAS Network has awarded Noor Hussein, Ph.D. from Stanford University, a $50,000 grant to investigate the function of an anti-inflammatory white blood cell called regulatory T cells, in PANS children!

This research will allow health professionals to determine if abnormal brain inflammation is caused by malfunctioning anti-inflammatory white blood cells. This research has the potential to kickstart the development of novel immunotherapies therapies for those with PANDAS/PANS.

Who is Dr. Noor Hussein?

Dr. Noor Hussein is a talented young postdoctoral scientist at Stanford University studying ways to leverage immunotherapies to treat autoimmune diseases.

With a Ph.D. from the University of Toledo in Experimental Therapeutics and an extensive background in pharmacology, cell biology, and neuroimmunology, Dr. Hussein is well suited to use her extensive scientific training to discover novel immunotherapies in PANDAS/PANS children.

However, identifying new immunotherapeutics first requires understanding what goes wrong in the immune system of children with PANDAS/PANS. Dr. Hussein discovered one such immunological mishap in those with PANS.

Dr. Hussein’s Discovery

Regulatory T Cells

A healthy immune system is in perfect balance. On one side you have immune cells that promote inflammation to fight infection. The other side consists of immune cells that reduce inflammation and prevent autoimmunity.

The latter group of anti-inflammatory white blood cells is a specialized type of T cell known as a regulatory T cell or Treg for short (pronounced “T-reg”).

Tregs expand in number when the body experiences too much chronic inflammation to prevent damage and autoimmunity. In people suffering from PANS, the chronic inflammation in the brain caused by autoimmune encephalitis must be turned off to protect the brain from harm.

Regulatory T cells (Treg) in PANS

The number of Tregs in those affected by PANS is significantly elevated in the blood.

Therein lies the mystery. If the chronic inflammation-suppressing Tregs are elevated in the blood of PANS patients then why are they not reducing (or eliminating) the neuroinflammation? Are these cells working properly?

Health professionals still don’t have the answer. That is why the PANDAS Network awarded a grant to Dr. Huessin because answering this question has the potential to identify important therapeutic avenues for those with PANDAS/PANS.

Not all Tregs are Elevated In PANS patients.

The regulatory T cells come in different shapes and sizes. There is a unique subpopulation of Tregs that expresses a molecule called CD39.

Dr. Hussein discovered that Tregs expressing CD39 are significantly elevated in the blood of PANS patients.

What is CD39?

Cluster of differentiation 39 (CD39) is an enzyme expressed by a subset of Tregs. This enzyme produces molecules that can be converted into anti-inflammatory molecules. This is one reason why these specialized Tregs (that express CD39) are considered powerful anti-inflammatory T cells.

Surprisingly, these specialized CD39 Tregs are also found to be elevated in multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, and AIDS.

Dr. Hussein’s Research Objectives

Are Tregs defective in a PANDAS cohort?

Dr. Hussein will attempt to determine if the elevated Tregs in the blood of PANS patients are defective.

Dr. Hussein hypothesizes the Tregs are defective in one (or more) of the following ways:

  • Tregs from PANDAS patients might have a dysfunctional enzyme called CD39 that has anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Tregs from PANDAS patients might make fewer anti-inflammatory cytokines
  • Tregs from PANDAS patients might not traffic into the brain as effectively.

Therefore Dr. Hussein will perform the following experiments on Tregs from PANDAS patients:

  • Measure the enzyme activity of the immunosuppressive molecule on Tregs called CD39
  • Measure the amount of anti-inflammatory cytokines the Tregs produce
  • Measure the abundance of molecules that help Tregs migrate into the brain

Collectively, these experiments will help scientists determine if the collective symptoms of PANDAS/PANS are attributed to defective immunosuppressive Tregs.

Therapeutic Potential

Determining if regulatory T cells are defective in PANDAS patients will help direct important research efforts into defining the differences between the immune systems of those without PANDAS/PANS vs those with PANDAS/PANS.

This research might also help scientists reprogram the dysfunctional cells and convert them into cells that can properly regulate the chronic inflammation so many with PANDAS/PANS experience.

How was the grant selected?

The PANDAS Network Scientific Advisory Board partnered with the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF) Scientific Advisory Board and rigorously reviewed each submitted grant application. The scientific advisory boards scored each grant application based on:

  • Budget
  • Feasibility
  • Significance
  • Scientific Merit
  • Institutional Resources
  • Impact on PANDAS/PANS Research

Who Helped Fund This Research?

While our collective PANDAS Network family helped fund this research, we would like to formally acknowledge Chuck and Rene Lumio who hosted the Lumio Casino Royale charity event to raise money for PANDAS research.

Their contributions were used to fund this grant! Thank you Chuck and Renee and thank you to all the small businesses below.

Below are the small businesses making a BIG impact! Learn more about Chuck and Renee and their generous community sponsors.

Stanford University, a Leader in PANDAS Research

Stanford University has been at the forefront of pediatric care for over a decade, including PANDAS/PANS research. The PANDAS Network is immensely proud to contribute to their ongoing efforts.