President and CEO, Lupus Research Institute
1. How did you get involved in Lupus research?
The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) was formed 12 years ago by families touched by lupus that recognized the critical need for novel research to jumpstart scientific discovery in lupus treatment and to drive to a cure. We just reached a new $170 million milestone -- delivering unprecedented novel research funding and unprecedented research results -- changing the lives of lupus patients. A new analysis of completed LRI Novel Research grants demonstrates an 84 percent success rate as scientists prove cutting-edge hypotheses, publish results and win extended federal funding to advance original discoveries on to clinical development.
2. What developments have been made in the past 20 years?
Over the last decade, the Lupus Research Institute (LRI) produced many of the pivotal discoveries in lupus and autoimmunity. LRI-funded investigators are answering bold new questions and letting this science lead the way to how lupus is diagnosed, monitored and treated as well as how it will be cured with breakthroughs in:
- Predicting flare. Two new lab tests to predict lupus flare. By detecting the earliest signs of an upsurge in disease activity the tests are designed to improve disease management and accelerate the testing of new drugs in clinical trials. Researchers: Mary K. Crow, MD and Emily Baechler Gillespie, PhD
- Predicting heart risk. For the first time clinical research showed that a blood test for homocysteine identifies lupus patients most at risk for cardiovascular disease. Doctors now use the test to guide preventative treatment and reduce the chance of life-threatening cardiac events. Researcher:Joan Von Feldt, MD
- Discovering how lupus attacks the brain. Researchers uncovered how the lupus immune system attacks the central nervous system (CNS), leading to current work on a new targeted treatment for neurological and psychological complications of lupus. Researcher: Betty Diamond, MD
- Discovering how lupus harms the heart. A chemically altered form of ‘good’ cholesterol was found to contribute to circulatory system damage in lupus. This discovery led to new ways to identify and treat patients at risk of heart disease. Researcher: Bevra Hahn, MD
- Transforming kidney diagnosis. Researchers devised new non-invasive tests to diagnose and guide treatment of lupus kidney disease as alternatives to surgical kidney biopsies. Researchers: Chandra Mohan, MD, PhD;Chaim Putterman, MD; Joshua Thurman, MD
- Discovering new genes. Genetic breakthroughs uncovered new culprits in lupus – the Toll-like receptors. Drugs that inhibit these proteins are soon to be tested in lupus patients. Researchers: Silvia Bolland, PhD and Ian R. Rifkin, MD, PhD
- Smarter drug delivery. Using innovative nanotechnology to deliver drug doses directly to disease-causing cells promises to make existing lupus treatments safer and more effective. Researcher: Tarek Fahmy, PhD
Our hope is a cure; and that hope is within reach as we are closing in on the fundamental causes of lupus.
3. What is your hope for the future of Lupus research and treatment development?
Our hope is a cure; and that hope is within reach as we are closing in on the fundamental causes of lupus. Meanwhile, in supporting only the most innovative research, the LRI is rapidly advancing new targets for development of novel treatments.
4. How hopeful can we be that a cure for Lupus will be discovered in the near future?
Very hopeful! The LRI recently launched the Distinguished Innovator’s award program to attract the world’s best talent and foster cross-disciplinary interactions among immunologists, geneticists, and cell, molecular and systems biologists, with the specific aim of finding the root causes and, from there, developing a cure. The $1 million award challenges the international scientific community — within and beyond those currently working in the lupus space — to build upon the growing knowledge base and advancing technology to launch large-scale innovative projects focused on answering the essential question — what are the fundamental causes of lupus? As we are closing in on the causes we are going for the cure.
By: Margaret Dowd, President and CEO, Lupus Research Institute