LRI Awards Wide-Ranging Research Grants to Drive Next Generation of Scientific Discovery in Lupus

Commits $3.6 million for innovative studies to find new solutions for devastating disease with limited treatment options

The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) today announced the award of 12 new research grants, building on its decade-long commitment to drive innovation and discover novel approaches to understand and treat one of the world's most confounding and elusive diseases—lupus.

Awarded for the highest-ranked creative new science, the grants span a range of topics and multi-disciplinary approaches that mirror the heterogeneity and complexity of the disease. Investigators from across the country will explore how the regulation of the immune system goes awry in lupus, how to better understand the immunological attack, and how the process can be manipulated therapeutically to correct specific manifestations that produce the tissue and organ damage that occurs in lupus.

"The roots of the Lupus Research Institute are grounded in our mission to advance discovery and directly impact the future of lupus research, not only by increasing the number of studies conducted, but by influencing how new mechanisms and facets of the disease are researched," said LRI President Margaret G. Dowd. "At the Lupus Research Institute, the status quo is never enough - we drive ourselves to discover new approaches to treating and curing a disease that has long been overlooked, ignored, and largely forgotten."

Over the last decade, the LRI's scientific strategy has delivered research progress and hope to the more than 1.5 million Americans living with lupus. With nearly $34 million invested in lupus research to date, and more than $100 million leveraged in follow-on funding from the National Institutes of Health and other organizations, the LRI supports the largest number, widest scope and most productive portfolio of new scientific knowledge in lupus research.

"The Lupus Research Institute's documented discoveries are among the most pivotal in lupus, spanning multiple organ systems and molecular aspects of the disease," said Michel Nussenzweig, M.D., Ph.D., the Sherman Fairchild Professor at Rockefeller University and a co-chair of the LRI's Novel Research Task Force. "In addition to successful and productive research, the Institute has leveraged additional investment in lupus research, attracted fresh talent to the field, and validated the power of bold innovation to drive discovery in a complex disease."

This year's class of LRI researchers builds on the organization's achievements in its first decade, confirming that new ideas in lupus research emerge from a variety of places. The group includes promising young lupus scientists and leading international lupus experts as well as investigators from diverse backgrounds such as oncology, biophysics, biochemistry, dermatology, and crystallography.

Each $300,000 research grant was awarded after multiple rounds of highly-rigorous peer review by scientists on the LRI Scientific Board. Applicants were judged principally on novelty of the hypotheses, scientific quality, strength of approach, relevance to lupus, and likelihood of success.

Highlights from the Research Grants include:

Robert Winchester, M.D., Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Pathology at Columbia University in New York City, who is receiving his second LRI grant to examine a life-threatening condition called preeclampsia, in which pregnant women experience very high blood pressure that can lead to serious complications for the mother and child. Preeclampsia occurs in approximately 1 in 10 pregnancies among women with lupus.

With LRI funding, Dr. Winchester will collaborate with a lupus pregnancy expert and rheumatologist to explore the novel hypothesis that preeclampsia in lupus is caused by a dramatically reduced number of immune system cells that encourage growth of the placenta. In a normal pregnancy, the reduction in immune system cells would be considered positive, but in lupus patients, this condition may lead to preeclampsia.

Potential findings may lead to powerful new ways to identify and modify this response in women with lupus and address serious complications for a particularly vulnerable patient population.

Mark Walter, Ph.D., Professor of Microbiology at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, will use LRI grant funding to directly examine human lupus samples and identify the type 1 interferon (IFNαs) molecules responsible the overactive immune response in lupus that causes damage to tissue and organs.

People with lupus produce significant amounts of type 1 IFNα molecules, and it has been demonstrated that blocking these molecules can reduce lupus symptoms. However, it is unclear which specific interferon molecule in the type 1 family is responsible for lupus complications.

If successful, this exciting research will open the door to more precisely targeted anti-IFN therapies in lupus, help to spare patients from unnecessary treatments and pave the way for potential therapies in the future.

Tyler Curiel, M.D., M.P.H., Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology and Oncology at the University of Texas Health Science Center, will explore possible scientific causes for the disproportionately high prevalence of lupus in females.

With an interdisciplinary background in medicine and cancer immunology, Dr. Curiel brings a new and creative perspective to studying lupus. Building off of his previous research in mice, he will study how specific cell pathways that regulate the immune system leave women more susceptible than men to lupus and other autoimmune illnesses.

His research begs the question: Could female predominance in lupus be due to a failure of regulatory T cells in the immune system triggered by the presence of estrogen?

The complete list of the Lupus Research Institute grant recipients includes:

 

Homepage photo of Dr. Rothlin: Yale University