LRA’s 2020 LMTA grantees focus on finding targets for new lupus drug development

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NEW YORK, NY. December 3 – The Lupus Research Alliance is proud to announce the 2020 recipients of its Lupus Mechanisms and Targets Award (LMTA).  The highly competitive grant gives researchers up to $200,000 a year for up to three years. As indicated by the title of the award, the 2020 awardees are each examining different possible mechanisms that could cause or contribute to lupus and are hoping to find novel biological targets and strategies for the development of new medicines to treat the disease.

Following are summaries of each exciting project:

Marcus Clark, MD, The University of Chicago

Determining which cells cause kidney inflammation in individual lupus patients

The Lupus Mechanisms and Targets Award will allow Dr. Clark to use cutting-edge computer programs to analyze images from the kidneys of lupus patients to see which immune cells in each patient are interacting to cause inflammation. These different interactions might indicate how each patient will progress and could be used to tailor more individualized therapies.

Jessica Hamerman, PhD, Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason

The flavor of autoantibodies in lupus

Dr. Hamerman studies a particular type of autoantibody, IgA, that is present in about half of people with lupus, although whether IgA autoantibodies are an important contributor to lupus is unknown. With her award, Dr. Hamerman will explore how IgA autoantibodies may contribute to lupus and define the mechanisms that are involved. If IgA autoantibodies prove to be important in disease development, drugs may be designed to interfere with their effects.

Alessandra B Pernis, MD, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS)

A new type of B cell in lupus

A new class of B cells, called Autoimmune-Associated B cells, has recently been shown to make autoantibodies in lupus. Dr. Pernis is examining the mechanisms that control the growth and function of these cells.  With her LMTA grant, she plans to further explore the role of these cells in promoting tissue damage in lupus to see if she can identify new targets for drugs that could help prevent tissue damage and disease progression.

Gregg J Silverman, MD, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

An altered microbiome in lupus patients

Dr. Silverman identified a species of bacteria that is more prevalent in the intestines of lupus patients with kidney disease than it is in healthy controls. He will use the LMTA to test to see if particular strains of this bacteria are involved in causing lupus and how it may contribute to lupus kidney disease. This study could lead to a new  tool for early diagnosis and identification of new targets for future therapies.

Roger Bryan Sutton, PhD, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center

Adding an enzyme that doesn’t work well in lupus

Rare cases of childhood lupus can be caused by the poor function of an enzyme called DNase1L3. This enzyme typically removes DNA that is left over from cells after they die. Lupus patients often have lower amounts of Dnase1L3. When this enzyme does not function correctly, autoantibodies can be made in response to the excess DNA. The antibodies for DNA can then lead to inflammation and tissue damage. Although injecting this enzyme might help, it wouldn’t last long enough in the patient to be an effective medicine. Dr. Sutton, along with his graduate students Jon McCord and Dr. Peter Keyel, will apply his award to design a new version of Dnase1L3 to overcome this limitation. The modified version of Dnase1L3 can then be used as a potential treatment for lupus.

Teodora Staeva, PhD, LRA Chief Scientific Officer, noted that these seven scientists in particular were chosen because of the novel and creative ways they are using technology to identify new mechanisms that can cause lupus. Ideally, their work will highlight targets for the design of more effective and more personalized treatments for people with lupus.

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About Lupus

Lupus is a chronic, complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. More than 90% of people with lupus are women; lupus most often strikes during the childbearing years of 15-45. African Americans, Latinx, Asians and Native Americans are two to three times at greater risk than Caucasians. In lupus, the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, creates antibodies that can attack any part of the body including the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints.

About the Lupus Research Alliance

The Lupus Research Alliance is the largest non-governmental, non-profit funder of lupus research worldwide. The organization aims to transform treatment by funding the most innovative lupus research, fostering diverse scientific talent, and driving discovery toward better diagnostics, improved treatments and ultimately a cure for lupus. Because the Lupus Research Alliance’s Board of Directors fund all administrative and fundraising costs, 100% of all donations goes to support lupus research programs.

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Margy Meislin
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