Lupus Research Institute Announces 2016 Research Grants

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by Magdalena Kegel |

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The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) recently announced this years’ research grants awarded to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) researchers.

The topics vary, but all strive to either present a better understanding of why people develop lupus or to improve treatment for the disease.

Two projects will investigate the link between bacteria and lupus. Dr. Stefania Gallucci at Temple University will investigate if bacterial infections can cause lupus and trigger flares. She hopes her research will lead to the development of new treatments and possibly lupus.

Dr. Vikki Abrahams from Yale will explore the theory that bacterial infections may worsen complications such as miscarriage in pregnant women with the blood-clotting disorder antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), an autoimmune condition often occurring secondary to lupus.

Timothy Niewold from the Mayo Clinic is exploring ways to manipulate the ability of the immune system to suppress specialized immune cells. The approach has been successful in creating new kinds of cancer treatments, and by using the knowledge from the cancer field, Niewold believes that it may be possible to create a new treatment for lupus.

Four grants were also awarded to researchers looking into genetic contributions to lupus.

Hal Scofield from the University of Oklahoma asks if having two X chromosomes is the reason women are more susceptible to lupus, rather than the presence of female sex hormones; Lindsey Ann Criswell from the University of California, San Francisco, investigates how pesticides and chemical exposures influence lupus severity; Matthew T. Weirauch from the Children’s Hospital Medical Center – Research Foundation asks if an interactive website using the power of Big Data could define the genetic links to lupus; and Lee Ann Garrett-Sinha from the University at Buffalo explores how a specific gene (Ets1) increases patients’ production of autoantibodies.

Another five grants were awarded to researchers translating current knowledge to clinically useful applications.

Hui-Chen Hsu (University of Alabama at Birmingham) wants to see if improving existing therapies that destroy B cells could provide an effective new treatment for lupus; Julio A. Camarero (University of Southern California) will study whether a current ineffective lupus treatment (BAFF) could be refocused to create a new and improved therapy; Tianfu Wu (University of Houston) focuses on the question of whether blocking a key enzyme – PLK1 – can reduce inflammation and disease severity; and Laura Mandik-Nayak (Lankenau Institute for Medical Research) asks if a new monoclonal antibody can stop autoantibody production.

Finally, Barbara J. Vilen (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill) explores if lupus flares are caused by the body’s inability to get rid of dead cells and how to repair this disposal mechanism by comparing patients with mild and severe lupus.

In a press release from the Lupus Research Institute, president and CEO Margaret Dowd said, “This year’s novel research projects tackle what causes lupus and introduce new approaches to better treat and even prevent this complex disease. LRI’s Novel Research Grant program gives scientists the ability to ask entirely new questions, providing a precious launch pad for scientific creativity. The dynamic of integrated innovation across the full range of novel research continues to produce the most pivotal discoveries in lupus.”