PHILADELPHIA—Thanks to a generous $10 million gift from Stewart and Judy Colton, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania will continue to be on the leading edge of autoimmune research and care with the launch of the Colton Center for Autoimmunity at Penn. The new center unites research and patient care programs across Penn—including Penn’s Institute for Immunology, the world’s largest single-institution immunology community—to drive advances in autoimmune diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment.
“Penn has a historic tradition of innovation and discovery, which carries on to this day—from harnessing the power of the immune system to fight deadly diseases to mRNA research that led to the COVID-19 vaccines that have saved so many lives,” said Penn President Amy Gutmann. “Now, we add the Colton Center for Autoimmunity to that list.”
Autoimmune diseases, where the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells, impact more than 23.5 million Americans. These diseases—such as celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis—are more common in women than in men, and are a leading cause of death and disability.
“The Colton Center for Autoimmunity at Penn is built on the strength of Penn’s collaborative environment, where our scientific enterprise is woven into the fabric of our health system and medical school’s identity and mission,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, executive vice president of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System and dean of the Perelman School of Medicine. “We are proud to be home to this new center and are confident it will drive a rapid and significant impact on patients and families facing autoimmune disease.”
As the third center of its kind, the Colton Center at Penn aims to accelerate autoimmune research and advances. The new center adds to an existing network of leaders in the field at New York University (NYU) and Yale University, bolstering collaborative efforts among these leading institutions.
“The new Colton Center at Penn brings together multidisciplinary experts across autoimmunity, immunology, bioinformatics, and beyond. What’s more, the center provides an opportunity to collaborate with other leading experts through the Colton Centers at NYU and Yale, allowing us to capitalize on driving advances in autoimmune disease research, beyond what one university can accomplish alone,” said E. John Wherry, PhD, director of the Penn Institute for Immunology and chair of Systems Pharmacology and Translational Therapeutics in the Perelman School of Medicine at Penn, and director of the new center.
Under Wherry’s leadership, and in collaboration with a leadership council of Penn autoimmunity experts and advisory boards, the center will focus on driving four pillars:
- Catalyzing development of therapies: The center will award annual pilot grants to catalyze new research and development of therapeutic options. The goal of the grant program is to encourage physician-scientists and researchers to join the center’s mission to impact treatment for autoimmune diseases.
- Cultivating rising stars: The center will award exceptional trainees with newly established honors—the Colton Scholar Award and the Colton Fellow Award—to recognize, support, and mentor the next generation of clinicians and scientists interested in autoimmunity.
- Investing in people and big data tools: Penn’s best-in-class Immune Health platform will be leveraged to accelerate autoimmune research. In addition, the center will prioritize investing in talent, deep immune profiling, and big data capacity. This will enable the Penn team to deliver enhanced research data faster.
- Collaborating across existing centers: Penn often works with institutions around the globe to drive research and improve patient care, and the Colton Center at Penn is no exception. Penn will collaborate with the existing Colton Centers at NYU and Yale to achieve shared goals and fuel breakthroughs.
“We hope this joint effort across all three world-renowned institutions—NYU, Yale, and Penn—will not only accelerate awareness for autoimmunity, but drive further innovative research for autoimmune diseases, which may help advance prevention and treatments for these types of diseases,” said philanthropists Judy and Stewart Colton, W’62, who announced their $10 million gift.
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $9.9 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $546 million awarded in the 2021 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 47,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2021, Penn Medicine provided more than $619 million to benefit our community.