May is National Lupus Awareness Month, and while it is a time for outreach programs about this condition, it is also a time to take a look at what the medical community has recently been working on to help those affected.
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Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disease where the body loses the ability to distinguish between it’s own healthy cells and the cells of invading pathogens. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, this means an individual with lupus must endure his or her own body breaking down its own tissues. The antibodies generated from lupus cause swelling and inflammation, adding pain to the already detrimental condition.
It is estimated that 1.5 million Americans have lupus, with more than 16,000 new cases reported annually. While anyone of any race/ethnicity can develop lupus, the condition affects women of color two to three times more frequently compared to non-Hispanic whites.
The most recent discoveries about lupus
The Lupus Foundation of America indicates there are no large-scale studies on the prevalence of lupus, and therefore information on the condition tends to vary. Recent studies are helping the medical community understand lupus better, however, and each advancement and discovery takes us one step closer to helping those who suffer with the autoimmune disease.
Though the list below is by no means all-inclusive, here are some of the latest medical discoveries regarding lupus:
- Earlier this May, the University of Huston was granted monies to investigate to study whether the interaction of three specific molecules is the cause of lupus nephritis, or kidney disease associated with lupus. Lead researcher Chandra Mohan believes it is the combination of kallikreins, bradykinin and one of two bradykinin receptors that leads lupus-related kidney issues:
“Currently, management of lupus involves the use of nonspecific drugs, such as steroids, that suppress the immune system. Our lab, however, is trying to find out the exact molecular mechanisms that lead to lupus,” Mohan said in a press release. “These mechanisms belong to two classes. On the one hand, you have molecules and pathways that activate the immune system to attack your own body cells. The second set of molecules focus on the kidneys once the immune system is activated by lupus. Our present research and grant focuses on this second molecular cascade, and we want to see whether we can target the kidneys to offer therapeutics that lessen the chance of a patient developing kidney disease once they’ve developed lupus.”
Another article this month, this time from the Department of Defense, spotlighted the possibility for better diagnostics for lupus.
According to Dr. Charles Via, a professor in the Department of Pathology at the F. Edward Hebert School of Medicine, lupus is an often misdiagnosed and overlooked condition because its symptoms mimic those of many other diseases. To help identify those at-risk for lupus, Via and his team are looking at how the immune system’s T-cells react to lupus.
“There are genetic differences in the T-cell response to a pathogen,” Via explained. “A subset will give a lupus response instead of a normal response to eliminate it. So now we’re trying to identify the genetic makeup of lupus-prone T-cells with the goal of developing a blood test that can identify lupus-prone individuals.” Such a test could indicate which patients are at risk for more severe disease, he added.
Christopher J. Edwards MD, MBBS, FRCP, Karen H. Costenbader, MD, MPH and a research team took a closer look at the environmental factors influencing lupus this year. According to the experts, lupus and other autoimmune diseases have long been suspected to be the result of both genetics and environmental causes that result in the expression of certain genes.
One of those factors happens to be the balance of microorganisms in the human gut that can influence epigenetic changes.”Our findings are still very preliminary and only based on animal models, but suggest that the gut microbiota is not only involved in APS but unexpectedly also in the pathogenesis of lupus.
We are currently trying to figure out which components of the microbiota influence lupus nephritis and APS by depleting some, but not all, gut commensals,” senior author Martin A. Kriegel, MD, PhD, told Medscape Medical News. “Many details still remain to be determined, but the general finding that there is a connection between the microbiome and lupus is quite clear and suggests that novel therapeutic avenues could be developed in the future that are targeting not the host but one’s microbiota. Since lupus has classically been considered to be a disease independent from the microbiota, it does change our basic understanding of the pathogenesis.”
Other research this year suggested that low vitamin D may exacerbate the symptoms of lupus. Research published in the journal Lupus Science& Medicine found children with low vitamin D levels experienced heightened inflammatory and cardiovascular risk. The results corresponded to similar findings previous established among the population of adult lupus sufferers.
In April, a report from the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases indicated that targeted B-cell therapy may be beneficial for individuals with severe lupus.
According to the research, regulation of B-cell activating factor (BAFF) which is heightened in individuals with severe lupus, generated a significant decrease in symptoms. The research is considered preliminary, however, as the results were not able to be carried out through the entirety of the clinical trial.
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