Public Release: 

Lupus Research Alliance Novel Research Grants push discoveries

10 new grants, 10 new insights

Lupus Research Institute

NEW YORK, NY. March 30. The Lupus Research Alliance announced today the Novel Research Grant Class of 2017. The Lupus Research Alliance Novel Research Grants, the proven platform for innovation, make discovery and scientific progress possible. This year's grantees push science out in front and ahead of the curve to deliver 10 innovative approaches seeking results that can transform the lives of people with lupus.

"Standing on a 16-year foundation of documented success, the Novel Research Grants bring new insight and untried directions to the complexities of lupus," said Lupus Research Alliance Co-CEO Margaret Dowd. "The program works because we create a space where scientists are encouraged to explore at the frontiers of current knowledge and to imagine without limits."

Finding the Flaws That Lead to Lupus

When we have a cold or the flu, our immune system fights back against the bug that's making us miserable. In lupus, however, that same immune system mistakenly takes aim at the wrong target -- patients' own organs and tissues. Four 2017 grant recipients are exploring dramatically different approaches to correcting the immune system's critical mistakes.

Mridu Acharya, PhD, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, has found a new pathway in lupus, having identified proteins that normally work together to prevent B cells, a type of immune cell that releases disease-fighting molecules, from targeting patients' cells. Working with human B Cells, she will investigate why these proteins fail to put on the brakes in lupus and potential new treatments to get them working properly again.

Shaun Jackson, MD, PhD, Seattle Children's Hospital, is also taking a fresh look at an old B cell problem, zeroing in on two recently identified molecules that may act as signals to promote immune attacks. Identifying the specific signals responsible for activating B cells and producing dangerous autoantibodies will inform development of potential targeted lupus treatments.

Christian Lood, PhD, University of Washington, is exploring a new treatment approach by examining whether people with lupus do not properly remove excess energy-producing structures, known as mitochondria, thus sparking inflammation. This highly novel project is likely to lead to new targets for therapy and new biomarkers for evaluating disease progression and response to treatment.

Zhiqiang Zhang, PhD, The Methodist Hospital Research Institute, is testing whether the protein he just discovered, APEX1, is responsible for sounding a distress call that stimulates our defensive cells - an impressive discovery that would allow researchers to develop new ways to prevent this false alarm.

Getting the Immune System Back on Track

Like a guard dog that bites its owner instead of a burglar, the cells that normally protect us from infections attack the wrong target in lupus. Three of this year's grant recipients are exploring state-of the-art approaches to induce the immune system to leave the body's cells alone.

Guo-Ping Shi, DSc, Brigham and Women's Hospital is investigating the enzyme Cathepsin S in controlling regulatory T cells, which rein in the immune system, from malfunctioning and to restore their ability to control other defensive cells. Testing in human cells, Dr. Shi's novel and important study has the potential to lead to the development of a novel therapy to prevent and treat lupus.

Natalia Giltiay, PhD, University of Washington plans to teach the immune system to tolerate the body's own cells in much the same way that allergy shots curb abnormal reactions to allergens. This novel approach to inducing immune system "tolerance" has never been applied to lupus before and may lead to a new effective treatment.

Anthony Rongvaux, PhD, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is using state-of-the-art technology to study a newly discovered process that may cause or worsen lupus and whether molecules involved in this process are potential targets to validate and advance new treatments that may reverse symptoms.

Testing Old Drugs for New Treatments

Developing new drugs is difficult, expensive, and takes years. But sometimes researchers find that existing drugs work against diseases they weren't designed to treat. Two of this year's grant recipients are asking whether the next lupus treatment is already on pharmacy shelves.

Vipin Kumar, PhD, University of California, San Diego, is testing a novel hypothesis backed by his preliminary data; he will explore a drug used to fight tropical parasites as a potential oral medication to prevent and treat kidney damage in lupus.

John Zhang, DVM, PhD, Medical University of South Carolina, is confirming initial findings and now testing in human cells whether the chemotherapy topotecan could offer an effective treatment to reduce inflammation in lupus. Topotecan blocks Fli-1, a protein Dr. Zhang and his team have determined worsens lupus symptoms.

Improving the Lives of Young People with Lupus

Up to 50% of children with lupus develop neuropsychiatric disorders, but they often don't receive the right mental health care. One 2017 grant recipient is asking whether technologies such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can change that.

Andrea Knight, MD, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, is developing a new biomarker to better detect and diagnose neuropsychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety that are common in pediatric patients so they can receive treatment and get relief sooner.

The answers to these 10 scientific questions hold breakthroughs that can transform lupus treatment and help advance toward prevention and a cure. With your continued support, we can bring more brilliant minds and new scientific talent to lupus research for pivotal discoveries that make a real difference.

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About Lupus

Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation and tissue damage to any organ system in the body. The health effects of lupus include heart attacks, strokes, seizures, organ failure, and possible death.

About the Lupus Research Alliance

The Lupus Research Alliance is the largest private funder of lupus research, united to free the world from lupus by harnessing the power of innovative science to make a difference for people living with the prototypical autoimmune disease. Through the power of collaboration, we are relentlessly focused on seizing every opportunity to transform the lives of all affected - patients, families, loved ones and the entire lupus community.

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