Lupus Canada Catalyst Award aims to help predict treatment response

1-year grant will fund new study into lupus nephritis inflammation

Andrea Lobo, PhD avatar

by Andrea Lobo, PhD |

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A Canadian researcher will use a newly granted Lupus Canada Catalyst Award — with one year of funding totaling $40,000 CAD (around $29,300) — for a study focused on better understanding the role of an inflammation marker in predicting treatment responses in people with lupus nephritis.

Lupus nephritis is one of the most severe complications of lupus and is characterized by kidney inflammation and damage.

The Catalyst Award, funded by the Lupus Foundation of America and Lupus Canada, will support the research of Joan Wither, MD, PhD, a professor at the University of Toronto.

“Today’s announcement between Lupus Canada and Lupus Foundation of America will kick start critical research into lupus nephritis clinical testing, with hope to improve treatment outcomes,” Thomas J. Simpson, chair of Lupus Canada, said in a press release.

Simpson added that Wither’s work “is important in filling a gap in research for this commonly misunderstood disease.”

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Lupus occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s healthy tissues. In lupus nephritis, which affects as many as 65% of lupus patients, the immune system mistakenly attacks the kidneys.

The condition, according to Wither, is hard to treat.

“Lupus nephritis is highly variable in its severity and response to therapy, with up to 30 percent of patients failing to respond to treatment, which can lead to decreased kidney function requiring dialysis or transplantation,” Wither said.

Full symptom remission after treatment is critical to preserve kidney function, but identifying the patients who will respond to conventional treatment remains difficult.

Thus, there’s an urgent need for biomarkers that can help identify patients who are less likely to respond to conventional therapies, so that appropriate treatment can be provided earlier on in the course of their disease.

Recent studies have shown that high activity levels of genes induced by interferon, an inflammatory marker, in kidney biopsies of people with lupus nephritis were associated with poor treatment response.

These data indicated that measuring the activity of these genes in kidney tissue samples could potentially be used to predict patient responses to treatment. However, the technique now available to do so is expensive, time-consuming, and requires fresh tissue samples, making it difficult to use in a clinical setting.

The funded project will use a newly developed technique to measure the levels of interferon-induced proteins, instead of genes. This technique can be performed in routinely processed kidney tissues obtained for clinical purposes, and allows researchers to analyze up to 50 different proteins at the same time in a single piece of tissue.

“The Lupus Canada Catalyst Award from the Lupus Foundation of America and Lupus Canada is allowing us to take critical steps in this research, which has the potential to improve kidney outcomes in patients with lupus nephritis,” Wither said.

Dr. Wither’s research on [interferon]-induced genes in patients with lupus nephritis holds the promise to revolutionize evaluation of lupus kidney biopsies and treatment strategies to improve kidney outcomes.


To assess the approach’s feasibility, researchers will use archived kidney tissue from patients for whom treatment effects are already known. This also will provide preliminary data on the utility of measuring interferon-induced proteins as a biomarker for treatment response.

“Dr. Wither’s research on [interferon]-induced genes in patients with lupus nephritis holds the promise to revolutionize evaluation of lupus kidney biopsies and treatment strategies to improve kidney outcomes,” said Joy Buie, PhD, director of research at the Lupus Foundation of America.

“Our partnership with Lupus Canada continues to enable us to support more researchers delving into crucial and innovative realms of lupus research,” Buie said.

The Lupus Canada Catalyst Award provides provides one year of funding for Canadian researchers at any stage in their career. Funded in part through the partnership with the Lupus Foundation of America, the award “is intended to complement rather than compete with traditional sources of funding,” the foundation states on its website.