University of Alabama Researcher Wins $250,000 Grant to Probe Root Causes of Lupus

Ines Martins, PhD avatar

by Ines Martins, PhD |

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The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) has received a one-year, $250,000 grant from the Lupus Research Alliance to investigate how lupus develops and why some people are at greater risk for flare-ups and kidney disease.

While no one knows exactly why lupus develops, researchers think a combination of genetics and environmental factors might predispose certain people to developing the disease; ethnicity also plays a role. This past June, the Lupus Foundation of America and the American College of Rheumatology launched a campaign to let African-American and Hispanic women — especially those of childbearing age — know that they’re two to three times more likely than women of other races to get lupus.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not only are black and Hispanic women more affected; the impact of lupus is often more severe as well. The first symptoms tend to show up at an earlier age among the two groups and the disease is generally more serious among those two groups.

In a 2016 study, researchers found that blacks with connective tissue diseases like lupus were twice as likely to suffer complications that increase the risk of a heart attack, stroke or death.

This new grant will support the work of Dr. John D. Mountz, co-director of the UAB Center for Aging, whose research is expected to accelerate the development of treatments that prevent, stop or cure lupus and its complications.

“The results will form a solid foundation to develop interferon therapies and identify markers that track the diseases in people with lupus,” Mountz said in a press release. In 2017, he received the Dr. William E. Paul Distinguished Innovator Award in Lupus and Autoimmunity, which provides up to $1 million over four years to support research worldwide that combine unconventional creativity and sound science in the pursuit of the fundamental causes of lupus.

If Mountz’s research shows progress at the end of the first year, the grant may be renewed.