Medical Research

Unique Focus with Scientific Depth

Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) is one of only a few research institutes in the world dedicated to discovering causes and cures to eliminate autoimmune diseases and allergies. BRI’s approach to research takes all the complex elements of autoimmune diseases and allergies into consideration. “We look deeply and broadly at how the immune system works when it is healthy and when it causes disease,” says BRI President Jane Buckner, MD. “We study immune system response in the laboratory, in human blood samples and in clinical research studies. Our patients provide feedback and that improves treatments. That’s how we do science — in a deep, extensive continuous improvement loop.”

Immune System Errors: From Autoimmune Diseases to Allergies

The body’s immune system is designed to keep bacteria, viruses and infections out of the body, and if they invade the body, to attack and destroy them. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system makes a mistake and attacks the body’s own healthy tissues and joints. This attack can cause type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease, lupus, multiple sclerosis and many other devastating diseases.

Medical research is making unprecedented progress against autoimmune diseases. People have far better treatments than 10 years ago, and some diseases can be kept in check with proper medical care. But there is still no cure. And people still suffer from these diseases that cause many disabilities and can even be life-threatening.

Allergies and asthma occur when the body’s immune system overreacts to a foreign substance (an allergen), such as pollen or animal dander, that in most people are generally harmless. Allergies can range from mild to severe. For some people, allergies can compromise quality of life and may be life-threatening. Current therapies for allergies aren’t optimal and may be risky. Recent discoveries, including breakthroughs at BRI, are game changers that will alter and significantly improve treatments. Scientists are also looking for the ultimate cure — a way to eliminate allergies. BRI is committed to finding ways to keep the immune system in balance to keep people healthy and eliminate diseases.

Allergies and asthma are serious health care concerns:

  • 50 million Americans have allergies
  • 25 million Americans suffer from asthma
  • 15 million Americans have food allergies, some can be life-threatening
  • 1 in 13 children have food allergies and the number is growing

Autoimmune diseases take an enormous toll:

  • 1 in 15 Americans are affected by autoimmune diseases
  • 75 percent of those affected are women, often in the prime of their lives
  • $100 billion per year is spent in health care costs
  • There are more than 80 different autoimmune diseases
  • It takes 4.6 years to diagnose autoimmune diseases correctly
  • Autoimmune diseases are more prevalent in the Pacific Northwest