Lupus Research Alliance Awards Grant to Team Working on Potential Therapies

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by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Lupus Research Alliance grant

The Lupus Research Alliance awarded a Target Identification in Lupus grant to a team of investigators led by Kerstin Nündel, PhD, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School, to fund their research projects on the disease.

The $574,000 three-year grant will be used to study how a type of cells from the immune system, called B-cells, become dysfunctional, leading to damage in several organs, the hallmark of lupus.

“B-cells are important for protecting you against viruses or bacteria, but if something goes wrong, they cause autoimmune disease,” Nündel said in a news release. “We are trying to understand how.”

Kerstin Nündel, PhD. Photo credit: UMass Medical School

Kerstin Nündel, PhD. Photo credit: UMass Medical School

“Target Identification in Lupus” grants provide funding to speed up research projects dedicated to the development of new treatments for lupus. Nündel has a scientific research background that has contributed to her knowledge of the disease. She has worked in the lab of Ann Marshak-Rothstein, PhD, who was the first to propose that a group of proteins called toll-like receptors (TLRs) could have a relevant role in lupus.

The researcher has also been involved in more recent studies exploring how one toll-like receptor in particular, called TLR9, may have a protective effect against lupus. In fact, the work Nündel will conduct with the new grant is based on her own results showing that, in B-cells, TLR9 regulates a molecule called AXL in one of the molecular pathways her team is interested in studying.

“Preliminary studies show that AXL causes migration, as when cancer metastasizes,” Nündel said. “Since one of the unexplored venues in autoimmune diseases is how B-cells actually cause end organ damage like kidney failure, I am interested if AXL is the molecule that gets the B-cells to the kidneys in lupus patients.”

Although Nündel’s work will be carried out using mouse models, the alliance believes her work has the potential to contribute to the development of treatments for lupus in humans.

According to the researcher, the ultimate goal of her team’s work is to target AXL with drugs that have previously been shown to be effective in cancer cells. If these drugs act upon the molecules she is studying, they may become potential future therapies to treat lupus in humans.