Two groups of researchers at the University of Houston received a total of $5 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop methods for early detection and monitoring of lupus nephritis.
Chandra Mohan received a $3 million grant to develop methods for early diagnosis. His group’s research focuses on identifying new disease biomarkers — proteins that are indicators of specific biological processes and help assess the risk of different conditions.
Using an approach called proteomic screening, which measures the levels of thousands of proteins under different conditions, the group identified about 30 proteins whose levels are increased in the blood or urine of lupus patients with a tendency to develop lupus nephritis.
“These proteins were high in patients with renal disease and predicted worse disease outcomes like kidney failure several years and up to 10 years later,” Mohan said in a press release.
The research group intends to identify more biomarkers and test which ones have the best predictive potential, then implement those to the clinic.
The development of reliable biomarkers could lead to early diagnosis and treatment before severe complications arise. It could also help determine prognosis and predict which medications would yield the best responses.
Tianfu Wu received a $2 million grant to develop a urine test coupled with a smartphone app.
“We are developing a technology allowing us to measure multiple biomarkers at one time, and this is a first,” he said.
The app will allow patients to read and interpret the results from home, reducing the need to go to a medical facility for routine screenings. It should also predict and identify flares and suggest individualized treatment.
Wu thinks that the treatment of lupus nephritis flares would be more timely if the diagnosis could be made from home.
He also expects that his at-home urine test can replace the invasive and painful kidney biopsies that are currently the best tool for lupus nephritis diagnosis.
Both groups are collaborating in the hopes that the newly identified biomarkers will make the app more robust.
“It’s a great day for lupus research at [University of Houston],” Mohan said. “Together these grants could be transformative in the way lupus is managed. When we find the best biomarkers present in lupus, we can put that information in the patients’ hands and empower them to monitor their own disease.”