STAR Center marks first year of research, treatment

Rhonda McCullough, wife of the late performer Bernie Mac

Nadera Sweiss (left), lead researcher in the sarcoidosis program, listens to Rhonda McCullough answer questions from the media at the opening of the Bernie Mac Sarcoidosis Translational Advanced Research Center last year. Photo: Joshua Clark/UIC Photo Services

The number of patients has increased 70 percent in the first year of UI Health’s sarcoidosis research center, funded in part by the Bernie Mac Foundation.

The Sarcoidosis Translational Advanced Research (STAR) Center marked its first anniversary Oct. 3 with an update on research and treatment at the UI Health facility.

The STAR Center, headed by Nadera Sweiss, associate professor of rheumatology, provides collaborative, interdisciplinary care and research into new treatments for the disease that took Chicago comedian Bernie Mac’s life in 2008.

Rhonda McCullough, Bernie Mac’s widow and president and CEO of the foundation, joined other foundation members and sarcoidosis patients from Chicago, Michigan, Alabama, Texas, California and Louisiana at the event, held at the College of Nursing.

Sarcoidosis is an inflammatory disease that often attacks multiple organs, particularly the lung and lymph nodes, and disproportionately affects African Americans. There are no FDA-approved treatments for sarcoidosis; patients are usually treated with drugs for rheumatoid diseases.

“This center has made a huge impact on improving the health of our community members affected by this disease here in Chicago, and beyond,” Sweiss said.

Researchers gave an overview on studies including:

• treatments for cardiac sarcoidosis, Shiva Shahrara, associate professor of rheumatology

• use of bone marrow stem cell transplants, which have been successful in curing sickle cell disease at UI Health, for treating sarcoidosis, Damiano Rondelli, the Michael Reese professor of hematology

• analysis of the genetic signatures of tissues affected by sarcoidosis and investigation of the role of the immune system to identify novel targets for therapy, David Perkins, director of research for transplantation, and Patricia Finn, professor and head of medicine, in the new STAR Center discovery laboratory.

The STAR Center will also participate in several clinical trials evaluating new drugs.

McCullough presented the center with $50,000 as part of the Bernie Mac Foundation’s 10-year, $500,000 commitment to UI Health to support the search for a cure for sarcoidosis.

“The work that our foundation so strongly supports here at UI health is leading the charge against this debilitating disease, and will help bring us one step closer to solving the mystery that is sarcoidosis,” McCullough said.

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