Grants Awarded to Study Skin Light Sensitivity and Lupus Flares

Research focuses on photosensitivity in the skin of lupus patients

Andrea Lobo, PhD avatar

by Andrea Lobo, PhD |

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A team led by researchers at the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) Research Institute has been given two grants to investigate the potential causes of lupus flares.

The research team will focus on exploring the molecular mechanisms underlying skin sensitivity to light, or photosensitivity, and lupus flares in people with the disease, with the aim of developing better treatment approaches.

“Lupus skin rashes affect the quality of life of patients and can be connected to systemic disease that can be life-threatening. Therapeutic options in lupus are limited, and it is important that we understand pathologic [disease] mechanisms so that we can develop better therapeutic options,” Theresa T. Lu, MD, PhD, lead investigator at HSS Research Institute, said in a press release.

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Lupus symptoms can come and go in an unpredictable manner. The so-called disease flares, which are characterized by a worsening of clinical symptoms, might trigger a change in treatment. During these periods, patients might experience fatigue, sensitivity to light, skin rashes, headaches, joint pain, and other symptoms, depending on the organs affected.

Sun exposure, particularly to ultraviolet radiation, can cause skin lesions and worsen the health of internal organs affected by lupus, such as the kidneys, heart, and lungs. However, how skin inflammation affects internal organs, and how it leads to systemic disease flares, is unknown.

These projects aim to identify the molecular mechanisms associated with photosensitivity and lupus flares, and to develop better therapeutic approaches. Researchers at the HSS Research Institute will collaborate with Weill Cornell Medicine, in New York.

The U.S. Department of Defense funded a three-year research grant to study proteins emitted from the skin that can affect lymph nodes — structures where immune responses are regulated. A previous study led by the same research team implicated the lymphatic system in skin photosensitivity and systemic immune reactions in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), which is the most common type of lupus.

A complementary two-year grant from the National Institutes of Health will focus on non-protein molecules and changes in fibroblasts at lymph nodes, by examining skin components, including interstitial fluid. Fibroblasts are cells that contribute to the formation of connective tissue, which supports other tissues and organs. The interstitial fluid is part of the connective tissue that surrounds cells within an organ.

The HSS Research Institute is the largest neuromuscular research facility in the world. It is a leader in research on orthopedic and rheumatic conditions, and autoimmune diseases like lupus. Researchers at HSS work to improve the life of patients by advancing the understanding of the mechanisms underlying these disorders, and spearheading the development of new therapeutics.