Lupus Insight Prize Goes to Dr. George C. Tsokos

Ines Martins, PhD avatar

by Ines Martins, PhD |

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The prestigious 2015 Lupus Insight Prize was awarded to investigator George C. Tsokos, MD, who serves as chief of the Rheumatology Division at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center as well as professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tsokos was selected by the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR), the Lupus Foundation of America (LFA) and the Lupus Research Institute (LRI).

The three lupus organizations announced the granting of the award to the researcher, who is recognized among his peers as a leader in the field of modern lupus research. Throughout his career, Tsokos was responsible for numerous discoveries that helped advance knowledge of the chronic autoimmune disease as well as its development and progression, particularly regarding lupus nephritis, a severe complication associated with the disease.

The Lupus Insight Prize recipient is chosen by an independent review committee that includes scientific leaders from leading lupus U.S. facilities and representatives of the three organizations. The group selected Tsokos after reviewing the nominated researchers, according to a series of criteria, such as academic achievements, creativity, insight, and potential for future advances able to improve the quality of life of lupus patients.

The award will be formally presented at a ceremony taking place on June 24th during the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies’ (FOCIS) 2015 annual meeting in San Diego. In addition to the awarding of the prize, Tsokos will present his plans on a scientific project currently underway and its expected outcomes for the treatment of lupus nephritis, while other leading clinicians and researchers will also share insights on latest discoveries regarding lupus and other immunology conditions.

The Lupus Insight Prize was established last January to honor major novel insights and/or discoveries with the potential to alter the way lupus is perceived, along with the higher probability of creating further progress in the diagnosis and treatment of the condition. The $200,000 award is expected to be invested in innovative studies focused on lupus.

Tsokos already announced that he will use the funding on a project that aims to understand the molecular correlation between the immune system and kidney damage caused in patients who suffer from lupus nephritis. The research is focused on the development of a targeted drug delivery method able to block a single enzyme action that is specific to kidney cells.

“Our work has potential to significantly improve treatment of lupus nephritis, a condition that can lead to kidney failure, the need for chronic dialysis or kidney transplantation and potentially death,” stated Tsokos. “Such a specific administration of a drug targeting only those cells impacted by one enzyme should relieve lupus nephritis symptoms while minimizing debilitating side effects common with current treatment.”

In previous studies, the investigator demonstrated the importance of the calcium calmodulin kinase 4 (CaMK4) enzyme for autoimmunity and inflammation in lupus patients. Tsokos analyzed the enzyme in animal studies and verified that it is also responsible for damaging the kidney cells, altering their capacity to prevent proteins from leaking out of the kidneys into the urine. The leakage, called proteinuria, is associated with lupus nephritis and may cause edema.

The results of the studies may help several patients with lupus, since lupus nephritis is a common condition characterized by an attack on the kidneys. Typical symptoms associated with it include swelling of the hands, feet or face, but also frequent urination, foamy or dark urine, fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, and lower back pain.

The condition is currently treated with immunosuppressive drugs, which may, however, raise the risks of the development of infections, or with corticosteroids, which may also cause severe side effects like weight gain and high blood pressure. In addition, patients who suffer from the disease may need to be treated with dialysis to filter their blood and remove the product waste, or, in more severe cases, with kidney transplants.

Tsokos, who also works as editor of the peer-reviewed journal Clinical Immunology, is on the editorial boards of over 30 publications, and published more than 400 papers, has been granted several other awards for his accomplishments in the field. Most recently, he was honored with two prestigious awards by the Lupus Foundation of America and the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) during the 2014 ACR Annual Scientific Meeting held in Boston.