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Increased prevalence of lupus in Non-Europeans has a genetic basis, study confirms

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Non-Europeans have a higher frequency of the gene variants that increase the risk of lupus as compared to the European population, a new study from researchers at the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' and King's College London, has confirmed.

The findings, which are published today in Nature Genetics, could lead to the development of tests to predict if an individual is more likely to develop lupus and may also contribute to the development of personalised treatments for the difficult to treat autoimmune condition the affects more than five million* people worldwide.

The study was led by Professor Tim Vyse, an expert in genetics and molecular medicine at King's College London and an honorary consultant rheumatologist at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, who said:

"Lupus is a very poorly understood condition. The confirmation that the condition's increased prevalence in non-Europeans has a genetic basis is an important step towards developing better predictive and diagnostic tools and may eventually help us to develop personalised treatments too."

The research team searched genetic data gathered from 22,670 Europeans, 13,174 Chinese as well as data from South Asian, east Asian and African recorded in the 1000 genomes**. Analysis of the data revealed that non-European populations have a higher number of the gene variants, known as alleles, which are thought to contribute to the risk of developing lupus, amongst the Chinese population.

While the study establishes that lupus is highly hereditary, researchers believe there is still a large 'environmental' component which plays a significant role. Dr David Morris, a researcher at King's College London and one of the study's co-authors, said:

"For the first time we've shown that Chinese populations have a higher number of risk alleles than their European counterparts, but we don't understand why this susceptability hasn't diminished over time for non-Europeans.

"When thinking about whether someone might develop lupus, we use evidence from Twins studies*** which has shown that genetic factors account for two-thirds of the picture and environmental factors make up the final third. Our study advances our understanding of the genetic component, but more work needs to be done to better understand the environmental factors."

Further analysis of the data also uncovered 10 additional risk alleles associated with lupus, bringing the total of known lupus-related alleles to 88. Dr Morris said:

"Identifying more lupus-related risk alleles gives us a clearer picture of the genetic triggers. It's possible that we may never identify all of these triggers, but we are moving closer to a threshold that when crossed will help us to more effectively predict and treat this debilitating and poorly understood condition."

The team is keeping a track of these genes on its website http://insidegen.com/.

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For more information please contact: Ben Sawtell, BRC Communications Manager [email protected] – 020 7188 7604

*Source: Lupus Foundation of America: http://www.lupus.org/about/statistics-on-lupus

** The 1000 Genomes Project ran between 2008 and 2015, creating the largest public catalogue of human variation and genotype data: http://www.1000genomes.org/about

*** The TwinsUK resource is the biggest UK adult twin registry of 12,000 twins used to study the genetic and environmental aetiology of age related complex traits and diseases. The TwinsUK is based at the Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology at King's College London.

Notes to editors

Nature Genetics (2016) 'Genome-wide association meta-analysis in Chinese and European individuals identifies ten new loci associated with systemic lupus erythematosus.' Professor Tim Vyse et al.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust and King's College London is one of the first five (of 11) biomedical research centres in England is funded by the National Institute of Health Research to help establish the UK's translational biomedical research infrastructure. With embedded world class core facilities, a range of hosted research organisations and partnerships with industry, this represents the foundation for London's premier biomedical cluster. We are arranged around four research clusters. For more information visit http://www.guysandstthomasbrc.nihr.ac.uk/

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust provides more than 2 million patient contacts in acute and specialist hospital services and community services every year. As one of the biggest NHS trusts in the UK, with an annual turnover of more than £1.3 billion, we employ around 13,650 staff. http://www.guysandstthomas.nhs.uk

Guy's and St Thomas' is part of King's Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre (AHSC), a collaboration between King's College London, and Guy's and St Thomas', King's College Hospital and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts. http://www.kingshealthpartners.org

King's College London – For further information about King's, please visit the 'King's in Brief' web pages.

National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is funded by the Department of Health to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research. Since its establishment in April 2006, the NIHR has transformed research in the NHS. It has increased the volume of applied health research for the benefit of patients and the public, driven faster translation of basic science discoveries into tangible benefits for patients and the economy, and developed and supported the people who conduct and contribute to applied health research. The NIHR plays a key role in the Government's strategy for economic growth, attracting investment by the life-sciences industries through its world-class infrastructure for health research. Together, the NIHR people, programmes, centres of excellence and systems represent the most integrated health research system in the world. For further information, visit the NIHR website (http://www.nihr.ac.uk).

Media Contact

Ben Sawtell
[email protected]
020-718-87604

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