13 Lupus Research Program Winners Share $5M for Work Advancing Disease Understanding and Treatment

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by Ines Martins, PhD |

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The Department of Defense recently announced the 13 winners of the 2017 Lupus Research Program, who received a combined total of $5 million to fund lupus research projects of both scientific and clinical interest.

Established in 2017, the program is the result of a collaborative effort between the Lupus Foundation of America, other advocate groups, and the Congress. It is designed to support promising research into disease causes, diagnosis, and the development of new drugs and treatments. The program specifically aims to fund work that has not been recognized by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, or another U.S. government agency.

Winning proposals were selected in a peer-review judging of 121 applications.

In total, six Concept Awards and seven Impact Awards were given. Concept Awards support the exploration of new concepts or untested theories in lupus research, while Impact Awards support work focusing on scientific and clinical issues related to lupus and with the potential to be of major impact.

Concept Award winners are Laura Plantinga of Emory University, Ziaur Rahman with the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Pennsylvania State University,  Fabienne Mackay (University of Melbourne), Eric Meffre at Yale University, R. Looney at the University of Rochester, and Mark DiFrancesco at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.

Impact award winners are Karen Cerosaletti and Adam Lacy-Hulbert with the Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason University, Alexander Szalai with the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Montserrat Anguera with the University of Pennsylvania, Joan Merrill at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation), Betsy Barnes with the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, and Caroline Jefferies at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“This is truly a significant moment as the Lupus Foundation of America and our advocates spent 14 years working tirelessly to establish the Lupus Research Program and also have been heavily involved in setting the strategic direction and priorities for this new dedicated funding stream for lupus research,” Stevan Gibson, foundation president, said in a press release.

Department of Defense support for the program stems from recent research suggesting that military veterans might be at a greater risk of developing lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Some factors common to military service may be responsible for this, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chemical and toxin exposure, vaccines, or infectious agents.

While these factors have been associated with the development of lupus, more research is needed.

The Lupus Foundation of America began advocating for a lupus-specific program at the Defense Department in 2003, as part of the agency’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program.

These efforts led to the creation of the Congressional Lupus Caucus, a group of nearly 60 U.S. Representatives who were key players in establishing and funding the Lupus Research Program.

To date, the Defense Department has provided more than $31 million for lupus research, including $10 million given in awards this year and last year under the Lupus Research Program.

A next series of Lupus Research Program awards is being prepared, with guidelines for fiscal year 2018 applications expected to be published in June on the Grants.gov website.

Researchers and others wishing to register for email notification of program announcements can do so here.