Lupus Research Alliance Awards $9M for 3 New Projects
LRA grants support research into disease genetics, progression and relapse
The Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) has announced $9 million in grants — three awards each totaling $3 million — to fund new research projects that aim to better understand lupus and pave the way toward the development of better treatment strategies for the inflammatory autoimmune disease.
The funding is being given through the LRA’s Global Team Science Award (GTSA). The three winning teams include experts in a range of fields, such as immunology, biomedical engineering, and public health, from 14 institutions across four continents.
“We are thrilled to add three new and exciting programs to our Global Team Science Award,” Teodora Staeva, PhD, chief scientific officer at the LRA, said in a press release.
“These three projects, selected from many compelling proposals, explore underlying causes of lupus heterogeneity [variability] and set the foundation for the future personalization of lupus treatments,” Staeva said.
Investigating disease mechanisms
One of the projects aims to characterize the immune cell profiles of people with systemic lupus erythematosus — the most common type of lupus, known as SLE — who are in remission, while not on immune-suppressing medicines.
Scientists will assess whether certain immune cell features may predict the likelihood of a disease relapse among patients who are in remission.
The project, led by Betty Diamond, MD, director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, in New York, also will evaluate cognitive function in people with SLE, and investigate possible connections between brain function and immune cell profiles.
“Our findings will help inform our understanding of immune cell heterogeneity in lupus patients. We also want to shed light on potential connections between immune cell abnormalities and cognitive complications, which may be an overlooked problem in SLE patients in remission,” Diamond said.
Another project is using advanced computational and genetic analyses to explore how ancestry-specific genetic differences may affect SLE in five ancestral groups: Europeans, Afro-Caribbeans, South Asians, East Asians, and Indigenous Australians.
“Our project explores the high variation in SLE symptoms and disease severity observed among different ancestral groups,” said Eric Morand, MD, PhD, head of the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash University, in Australia, who is leading the study.
“This research will generate a massive amount of data that we can use to identify potential genes that drive or promote SLE. We hope these findings will identify new targets for treating or preventing lupus,” Morand said.
The third project, led by Martin Kriegel, MD, PhD, chief of rheumatology and head of the department of translational rheumatology and immunology at the University of Münster, in Germany, aims to explore how bacteria living in the digestive tract might affect the development and progression of lupus.
Kriegel’s team aims to identify bacteria that escape the gut to activate lupus-driving inflammation in patients with active disease. The scientists also will conduct further research in mouse models to explore the effects of specific microbial species.
“Our past work in mice showed that microbes living in the digestive tract can trigger damaging immune system activity if they escape from the gut. Now, we are translating our research to SLE in humans to identify microbes that cause or worsen lupus, with the ultimate goal of developing a new set of lupus diagnostics and treatments that target the ‘bad’ gut bacteria,” Kriegel said.
The Lupus Research Alliance established the GTSA in 2020 in an effort to understand both the clinical and mechanistic heterogeneity of SLE. The awards are funded by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. The overarching goal, according to the LRA, is to develop more effective treatments for lupus and to improve the standard of care for patients.