Novel Research Grant Recipients – Class of 2013

Tackling the complexities of lupus from bold out-of-the-box perspectives, the new studies look at several potential targets for developing new drug treatments, reasons why the immune system turns against the lupus patient’s own cells and organs, and new treatment approaches to correct these immune system defects. The new awards also deal with serious complications of lupus, including blood clots and damage to the kidney and the central nervous system. The 12 grant recipients were selected from nearly 100 applications through a rigorous review process by the Institute’s scientific advisors and 70 lupus experts nationwide.

Entirely original as well as highly promising, each of these studies exemplifies the investment in innovation that sets the Lupus Research Institute apart. Our novel research strategy over the past decade has taken scientific discovery in lupus to an unprecedented level of success — producing breakthroughs that are driving new treatments. LRI investigators are increasingly picking up the pace, moving studies from the lab to the human disease and to the clinic, keeping lupus patients healthier and safer while we drive to a cure.

Why Does the Immune System Turn Against the Body and How Can We Stop It?

Nine of the LRI-funded investigators are seeking to understand why in some people the immune system, which normally protects, turns and begins to attack the body. This new insight promises to pave the way for more effective and safer treatments for autoimmune disease that prevent the immune system from attacking the body while leaving it able to fight infection.

Can We Reduce Virus-Fighters that Drive Lupus?

Viral infections trigger the immune system to make large amounts of virus-fighting proteins known as interferons. But too much interferon may cause the immune system to attack the body in lupus.

Two new studies will take different approaches to find out how production of interferons might be lessened as a way to treat lupus.

Xiaoyo Hu, MD, PhD

“Having discovered how a particular protein can limit the amount of interferon produced by cells, we are trying to use this natural means of controlling the amount of interferon produced.”

Xiaoyo Hu, MD, PhD, Hospital for Special Surgery, NY, NY

Elina Zuniga, PhD

“In chronic viral infections such as HIV, interferon production eventually declines, whereas in lupus and some other autoimmune diseases it does not. We are asking how viruses diminish interferon production. Our research could lead to new treatment approaches to turn off interferon in lupus and other autoimmune diseases.”

Elina Zuniga, PhD, University of California, San Diego, CA

Which Interferon is the Right Target for Treatments?


Deborah Lenschow, MD, PhD

“Several treatments that target interferons are in development for lupus. Our team is examining an unusual interferon — interferon kappa — to see if it has harmful or beneficial effects and if it should be targeted in therapies.”

Deborah Lenschow, MD, PhD, Washington University in St. Louis, MO


Why Women?

Stefania Gallucci, MD

“Nine out of 10 people with lupus are women. We are testing how female sex hormones might activate the immune response and initiate autoimmunity. Our work could identify new drug targets in lupus.”

Stefania Gallucci, MD, Temple University, School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA

Are Germs to Blame?


Gregg Silverman, MD

“We are applying the most cutting edge technologies to search for evidence that germs in our gut serve as triggers for lupus. Our studies may lead to new approaches for early diagnosis and therapeutic intervention.”

Gregg Silverman, MD, New York University, NY, NY


How Does Lupus Develop?


Randall Davis, MD

“We are looking at why people with alterations in a family of little-known proteins found on immune cells are at risk for lupus and other autoimmune diseases. These proteins may be potential new drug targets in diseases of the immune system and lupus.”

Randall Davis, MD, University of Alabama at Birmingham, AL


Are Defective Proteins the Culprit?


Averil Ma, MD

“Our work will establish how a specific protein, ABIN-1, inside immune cells might explain why some people are at risk for lupus, and if so might offer a new target for a drug treatment.”

Averil Ma, MD, The University of California, San Francisco, CA


Could Blocking One Rare Cell Provide a Priceless Treatment Approach?


Roberta Pelanda, PhD

“We are the first group to look at whether a rare and unusual B cell linked to lupus is actually contributing to the disease. If so, these cells could be blocked to treat the disease and/or tracked to aid diagnosis.”

Roberta Pelanda, PhD, National Jewish Health, Denver, CO


Can More Immune Cells Help?


Joe Larkin, PhD

“We are exploring a new approach to treating lupus by boosting the numbers of specialized immune cells that stop unwanted immune responses.”

Joe Larkin, PhD, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL


How Can We Better Treat Common Complications of Lupus?

Three investigators are exploring new ideas on how to predict, prevent and treat some of the most devastating complications of lupus.

Can a Food Supplement Prevent Blood Clots?


Bruce Furie, MD

“Blood clots triggered by autoantibodies are a major complication of lupus. We are looking at how blood clots form in lupus and testing if a natural chemical found in certain foods, rutin, may be able to prevent clots. If so, we will quickly start testing rutin in humans since it is already approved as a food supplement by the FDA.”

Bruce Furie, MD, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, MA


Is There a Way to Prevent Lupus Kidney Damage?


Jane Salmon, MD

“We are investigating whether a type of protein found on the surface on kidney cells worsens the kidney damage caused by lupus antibodies and whether release of these proteins could be blocked to prevent lupus kidney damage.”

Jane Salmon, MD, Hospital for Special Surgery, NY, NY


How Can We Diagnose Lupus in the Brain?


Chandra Mohan, MD, PHD

“We are applying the state-of-the-art technology in a comprehensive search for biomarkers that can improve the diagnosis and treatment of lupus in the central nervous system.”

Chandra Mohan, MD, PHD, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX