2022 Emerging Leaders Prize Awarded to 3 Researchers in UK

Awardees received a total of £220K funded by the will of scientist with the disease

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by Patricia Valerio, PhD |

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The Medical Research Foundation has awarded its sixth Emerging Leaders Prize to three lupus researchers in the U.K.

The scientists received a total of £220,000 (around $269,000), funded by a gift in the will of Erina Herrick, a scientist with the disease who devoted her research to it.

“We’re excited to be supporting the next generation of leaders in lupus research, as a tribute to Dr Erina Herrick, a scientist who lived with lupus for most of her life,” Angela Hind, PhD, the foundation’s chief executive, said in a press release

“Sometimes our donors specify areas of research important to them, and this was the case with Erina, who left a gift in her Will to support emerging research leaders in the field of lupus,” Hind said.

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Up to 50,000 people in UK may have lupus

In the U.K., up to 50,000 people are thought to have lupus. As an inflammatory autoimmune disease, the condition causes the body’s immune system to attack its own healthy cells, resulting in inflammation in different parts of the body.

The disease can affect anyone but is more common in people of African, Caribbean, or Asian origin. Women account for 90% of the cases.

Different factors can trigger lupus, and every patient is affected differently. In mild cases, symptoms involve rashes and joint problems, but in more severe ones, the disease can lead to kidney failure, heart disease, and neurological damage. 

Such a broad spectrum of symptoms common to other diseases makes diagnosing and treating lupus challenging. There is still no cure, but symptoms can ease if patients start treatment early.

“Lupus is poorly understood, difficult to diagnose and treat, and there is no full cure — all of which leaves a huge unmet need for new research,” Hind said.

The Medical Research Foundation seeks to support researchers studying the disease and trying to make a difference ultimately for patients.

We’re excited to be supporting the next generation of leaders in lupus research, as a tribute to Dr Erina Herrick, a scientist who lived with lupus for most of her life

2 researchers share top prize of £100,000 each

This year’s top Emerging Leaders Prize was awarded to two researchers, who each received £100,000 (around $122,000): Eve Smith, PhD, National Institute for Health and Care Research’s academic clinical lecturer at the University of Liverpool and Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust; and Alex Clarke, PhD, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology’s senior clinical research fellow at the University of Oxford.

Smith’s research has been focused on lupus in children. She leads an international program called TARGET LUPUS, which seeks to develop a new “treat-to-target”-based approach to patient management, promoting early aggressive treatment to prevent organ damage, reduce side effects, and improve survival.

The funding will help Smith speed up a long-term goal of developing clinical trials in lupus and other rare pediatric diseases with a focus on improving patient care, and supporting analysis for the program.

Clarke’s work seeks to understand the fundamental causes of lupus. He studies how the metabolism of immune cells changes in autoimmunity and how this can promote lupus development.

The award will help Clark further investigate metabolic alterations in cells involved in immunity and the possible development of new therapeutic strategies.

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Third prize goes to young scientist studying antiphospholipid syndrome and lupus

The third award was given to Thomas McDonnell, PhD, Medical Research Foundation fellow at University College London, who received £20,000 (around $24,468).

McDonnell’s research focuses on antiphospholipid syndrome, a condition that significantly overlaps with lupus. It corresponds to a hypercoagulable state induced by antibodies against phospholipids, a major component of all cell membranes.

McDonnell has focused on establishing a unique, multidisciplinary approach in translational research, putting together techniques from different fields and applying them to benefit patients.

This funding will allow McDonnell to participate in a leadership course and train other scientists working on lupus and associated conditions.

Over the last five years, the Medical Research Foundation has invested £1.5 million ($1.84 million) in lupus research, including three awards in 2017 for its first Emerging Leaders Prize, and four research fellowships in 2019.