Lupus Research Alliance Awards 9 Grants for Innovative Studies

Ines Martins, PhD avatar

by Ines Martins, PhD |

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The Lupus Research Alliance recently announced the nine winners of its Novel Research Grants, to support innovative research on lupus.

The grants support research into the complexity of lupus from different perspectives. Among the nine winners, studies vary from testing new and existing therapies, to exploring paths for developing new ones.

The nine grantees of 2018 are:

Turning Down an Autoimmune Inheritance, Betsy Jo Barnes, PhD – Barnes, at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, will study how variants of a key immune system gene, called interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5), contributes to lupus. This study may reveal why the immune system is triggered to begin an autoimmune attack.

Tracing the Path to Organ Damage, Jason S. Knight, MD, PhD – Knight, at the University of Michigan, will study how a protein produced by some immune cells, called elastase, contribute to lupus and its complications. This study could help develop novel drugs as potential lupus treatments.

Retooling Antibody Factories, Ziaur Rahman, MD, PhD – Rahman, at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, will study how germinal centers work in people with lupus. Germinal centers are where immune B-cells develop the ability to fight infections or, in the case of lupus, attack a person’s tissues. This study could help uncover new targets for drug development to complement existing therapies.

Knocking out Destructive T Cells While Preserving Protectors, Andre Ballesteros-Tato, PhD – Ballesteros-Tato, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will look for ways to eliminate T follicular helper (Tfh) without hurting other cells. Tfhs support the production of B-cells (immune cells that produce self-antibodies). This study could help develop a new treatment to stop disease progression without dampening the entire immune system.

Zeroing in on Rogue B Cells, Frances Lund, PhD – Lund, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, will study ways of selectively removing lupus-related B-cells from a person’s immune system. Lund’s studies could reveal new targets for safer drug therapy in lupus.

Flipping the Off Switch, Alessandra B. Pernis, MD – Pernis, at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York City, will study the same B-cell subtype as Lund. But Pernis is interested in understanding how these cells are made and what triggers them to produce autoantibodies in lupus, in an attempt to find vulnerable spots that can be targeted with therapy.

Depriving Immune Cells of Sugar Saps Energy for Attack, Laurence Morel, PhD – Morel, at the University of Florida, will study how a sugar-deprivation approach to treat lupus can help three existing drugs – Benlysta (belimumab), Orencia (abatacept), and Antova (ruplizumab) – work better. By testing combinations of these drugs with metformin, a drug used in diabetes to reduce sugar levels, Morel could find ways to slow down lupus or reverse kidney damage.

Nicotine Substitute May Reduce Brain Inflammation, Keisa Williams Mathis, PhD – Mathis, at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Fort Worth, discovered that nicotine, one of the main chemicals found in tobacco cigarettes, had the potential to reduce inflammation. Following on this discovery, Mathis is studying non-toxic molecules that might work like nicotine in reducing inflammation. She also will assess how this type of therapy behaves in the brain, seeking ways to eliminate negative behavior changes caused by lupus.

Taking Down the DNA Ornaments, Amr Sawalha, MD – Sawalha, at the University of Michigan, will study a process called DNA methylation — a kind of modification in the DNA that affects how genes are expressed — and how this process could be reverted in CD4+ T-cells in lupus. The study could lead to the development of new drugs.

Each of these awards comes with three-year, $300,000 funding for the development of research programs.