Lupus Research Institute Opens New Directions in Autoimmune Disease Research

Early Immune System Error Challenges Basic B-Cell Biology in Lupus

New York City, Sept. 19, 2007 – A researcher at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston with funding from the Lupus Research Institute (LRI)—the nation’s only organization exclusively devoted to pioneering innovative science in lupus—has made a startling finding. Publishing in the journal Immunity, Thereza Imanishi-Kari, PhD, reports that early mutation of immature, undeveloped B cells may prevent them from becoming a source of tissue-destroying antibodies.

The discovery challenges long-held dogma and changes basic views of B-cell biology in lupus. Until now, scientists thought that only “mature” B cells could mutate their antibody genes.

With LRI funding, Imanishi-Kari has discovered that B cells also mutate during their early development. This early genetic altering of antibodies could prevent the developing cells from making an early immune system error—a mistake in “tolerance”—that causes autoimmune diseases such as lupus.

Imanishi-Kari’s discovery offers a new direction for research into autoimmunity. It may explain why the immune system in lupus makes a basic mistake: It fails to recognize its real enemies, and turns on itself—a core error in the autoimmune process. The study results may also pave the way to new strategies for preventing lupus.

“Our findings show that the immune system can influence adaptive autoimmunity much earlier than had been previously thought,” Imanishi-Kari said. She and her colleagues are also looking at the role of the protein interferon in forming these immature B cells.

LRI funds lead to important discoveries

“Research on the basic biology of B cells has been somewhat neglected and underfunded. The LRI’s funding of novel research in this area has played a key role in high-profile discoveries,” said Mark Shlomchik, MD, PhD, professor of laboratory medicine and immunobiology at Yale University School of Medicine.

“B cells are absolutely pivotal to lupus, and any important new insights into how they develop and function are very helpful in creating the ‘blueprints’ by which we can understand dysfunction in lupus. This study advances our understanding of both normal and pathogenic B-cell responses. Its results could point to how to interfere with them in lupus.”

The LRI’s $300,000 grant to Dr. Imanishi-Kari is one of 73 that the Institute has funded to foster innovative ideas that can lead to a solution for the more than 1.5 million Americans who struggle with lupus every day. Since it was founded in 2000, the Institute has awarded nearly $20 million to support research studies at 43 academic medical institutions nationwide.

“These awards exemplify the LRI’s mission to find and fund only novel ideas that bring new thinking to lupus research,” said Margaret Dowd, the Institute’s president.  “Many are high-risk/high-reward hypotheses – new, untried theories that show promise for changing lupus research.”

Many studies that have been awarded LRI funding advance to significant extended funding from the National Institutes of Health. An NIH grant is the next step in the research process.

To learn more about lupus and the LRI, visit www.lupusresearchinstitute.org.

About the Lupus Research Institute

Pioneering Discovery to prevent, treat and cure lupus. The Lupus Research Institute (LRI), the country’s only nonprofit organization singularly devoted to novel research in lupus, champions innovation, encourages scientific creativity and risks exploring uncharted territory to bring new scientific solutions to the complex and dangerous autoimmune disease of lupus. Founded by families and shaped by scientists, the Institute mandates sound science and rigorous peer review to uncover and support only the highest ranked novel research. Its bold and proven research strategy places the LRI at the forefront of lupus science as the Institute consistently achieves the breakthrough discoveries, novel insights and solid results that are changing the course of lupus research and bringing new hope to people with lupus nationwide.

About Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (S.L.E.), commonly called lupus, is a chronic and potentially fatal autoimmune disease and one of the nation’s least recognized major diseases. It is considered the prototype autoimmune disease because the body’s immune system forms antibodies that can attack virtually any healthy organ or tissue, from the kidneys to the brain, heart, lungs, skin, joints, and blood. Lupus is a leading cause of heart attack, kidney disease, and stroke among young women. No major new treatments for lupus have been approved in almost 50 years.