Emily Baechler Gillespie, PhD

University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN

2005 Biomarkers, Human Lupus Biology

Dr. Baechler-Gillespie received an extension of the grant given to Timothy Behrens, MD

While many genes are believed to be involved in lupus, the discovery of one that appears with relative consistency means that genetic testing for lupus may be a possibility.

In LRI-funded work that she took over when Dr. Timothy Behrens left to work at Genentech, Dr. Baechler analyzed blood samples from people with lupus at various time points to determine whether certain serum proteins could be used to measure active disease and predict future flares.

In a group of 30 people, her team has shown that 4 serum proteins (chemokines) that are regulated by type-1 interferon can be used as biomarkers of SLE disease activity. The team's findings were published in a 2006 PLoS Medicine paper, and results collected from longitudinal data collected on 1,500 samples from 300 patients were presented the findings at an American College of Rheumatology meeting.

The test that Dr. Gillespie and her team developed has been licensed to a major clinical laboratory for development and could soon result in a test that quickly and easily enables patients and their physicians to determine when a lupus flare is imminent.

Such a test is critical because there currently is no way to predict when a person with systemic lupus is shifting from a cycle of remission, when the disease is relatively quiet, to a cycle of flare, when the disease is active and often very destructive.

“Although my lab continues to focus on SLE, the results of our LRI-funded project have led to collaborations in which the chemokine test is being evaluated in other autoimmune diseases. This shows the potential for our work in lupus to teach us more about other autoimmune diseases and potentially benefit additional patient populations.” – Dr. Baechler, 2010


Subsequent Publication 2012

A protein-containing computer chip developed by researchers at Stanford University and Intel could allow faster and more accurate diagnosis of lupus, according to a 2012 report published in Nature Medicine. This important advance was facilitated by research first funded by the Lupus Research Institute. Testing blood from lupus patients by applying the sample directly on to the chip, the researchers could determine which patients had antibodies targeting histone 2B, and to which particular part of the protein. The precision of the technology allowed the researchers to accurately identify patients with severe lupus versus those with milder disease. 

Dr. Baechler-Gillespie, also an author on this just published paper noted, “Through the discoveries made as part of our LRI Novel Research Grant, we gained an even greater appreciation for the importance of examining subgroups of lupus patients based on a particular biomarker measuring severity of lupus based on interferon pathway activation. In this new study, the interferon biomarker my team had identified previously was used to compare the accuracy of the technology in identifying those with severe versus mild lupus.”

In the future, the technology could be developed as a test to diagnose autoimmune diseases such as lupus or to monitor the effectiveness of treatment. Unlike existing lab tests for lupus, a chip-based test could be carried out in the doctor’s office, with results available immediately.“The chip could provide the basis for a clinical test that would very rapidly assess a very specific autoantibody response, which could be key for early detection in someone who is suspected of having lupus,” said Dr. Baechler-Gillespie

Select publications:
Nat Med. 2012 Sep;18(9):1434-40. On silico peptide microarrays for high-resolution mapping of antibody epitopes and diverse protein-protein interactions.  Price JV, Tangsombatvisit S, Xu G, Yu J, Levy D, Baechler EC, Gozani O, Varma M, Utz PJ, L CL.

Interferon-regulated chemokines as biomarkers of systemic lupus erythematosus disease activity: a validation study. Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Oct;60(10):3098-107. Bauer JW, Petri M, Batliwalla FM, Koeuth T, Wilson J, Slattery C, Panoskaltsis-Mortari A, Gregersen PK, Behrens TW, Baechler EC.

Elevated Serum Levels of Interferon-Regulated Chemokines Are Biomarkers for Active Human Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. PLoS Med. 2006 Dec 19;3(12):e491. Bauer JW, Baechler EC, Petri M, Batliwalla FM, Crawford D, Ortmann WA, Espe KJ, Li W, Patel DD, Gregersen PK, Behrens TW.

Ongoing funding:

In the winter of 2010, Dr. Baechler received official award notice of a $1.2 million grant from the Minnesota Partnership (and to be shared with the Mayo Clinic) to continue this work in identifying "pre-lupus" patients via the "chemokine test" that she first explored with the LRI grant. She previously received a $25,000 from the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota to build on her LRI work.