October 2008

WHAT'S NEW AT LRI

Our Scientists Win $60 Million from NIH to Expand Research

Innovation Drives Powerful New Research Model for Complex Disease

A recent analysis shows that 65 percent of the 53 scientists who have completed their 3-year Novel Research grants—an LRI investment of $13.5 million—have successfully proven their innovative hypotheses and gone on to secure $60 million at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and other agencies to expand lupus research.

“The scope, speed, and consistent pace of this scientific discovery are unprecedented in private sector lupus research,” said LRI President Margaret Dowd. “We began convinced that the path to a cure lay in freeing investigators to think creatively and imaginatively, so we asked for outside-of-the-box thinking. LRI investigators have turned that box inside-out and upside-down.”

“The LRI strategy of funding novel scientific ideas in lupus has more than demonstrated its power,” adds William E. Paul, MD, chief of the Laboratory of Immunology at NIAID-NIH, and chair of the LRI’s Scientific Advisory Board. “The model strengthens the lupus research landscape by moving novel concepts forward to secure large-scale federal funding.”

The LRI invests $300,000 each in grants for innovative projects at academic medical centers nationwide. It’s the only organization pioneering lupus discovery through this bold, high-risk model.

At first, no one else would fund exploration of Dr. Betty Diamond’s novel idea that certain stress hormones might be responsible for allowing toxic antibodies to penetrate the brain in lupus and destroy nerve cells there, causing memory loss, confusion, and other cognitive problems. Now the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research researcher has an LRI-generated NIH program grant for $6.5 million to build on more strategies for dealing with this devastating development.

At first, no one else would fund exploration of Dr. Marcus Clark’s novel idea that the kidneys of people with lupus may actually contain activated B cells that directly promote inflammation and damage in these critical organs. But in his LRI research, Dr. Clark examined small bits of tissue taken from inflamed lupus kidneys—and did in fact find activated B cells. Now the University of Chicago researcher has an NIH grant for $1.1 million to further explore, explain, and expand on this major discovery. “This government grant was funded entirely based on research supported by the LRI,” Dr. Clark said.

At first, no one else would fund exploration of Dr. Greg Lemke’s novel idea that a curious family of “TAM” receptors might function as a core ‘control switch’ over the immune system’s inflammatory response. But he was right. Now the Salk Institute for Biologic Studies researcher has grants of $1.4 million from the NIH and others to explore exciting new approaches to mastering this switch—shutting down the uncontrolled inflammation of lupus and other autoimmune illnesses by restoring immune system regulation. “Without the LRI…this fundamental discovery in immunology wouldn’t have happened,” Dr. Lemke said.

» Read more about ongoing funding successes at Massachusetts General Hospital, Vanderbilt University, the University of Alabama, the State University of New York, UCLA, and and more at www.lupusresearchinstitute.org/show.php?2008_nih_grants

 


#1 NIH Grant to LRI Researcher Zhixin Zhang, PhD

Dr. Zhixin (Jason) Zhang’s grant proposal was so strong that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) ranked it NUMBER ONE out of 500 applications.

Congratulations, Dr. Zhang!

At first, no one else would fund exploration of Dr. Zhixin (Jason) Zhang’s novel idea that the normal immune system process that alters antibody genes—VH replacement—is what goes into overdrive in lupus, causing B cells to make damaging autoantibodies. But with LRI funding, he was able to show that 30 to 60 percent of these genes in people with lupus are in fact generated by this ‘VH replacement’ process, compared with less than 5 percent in healthy people. Now the former University of Alabama researcher, currently at the University of Nebraska, has received two NIH grants totaling $2.9 million to further pursue this discovery and its potential to find an early marker for lupus diagnoses and organ involvement. He’ll also look at whether chronic viral or bacterial infections may actually trigger lupus.

“Without the LRI we wouldn’t have been able to generate the preliminary data for the NIH grants,” Zhang said. “LRI support made this happen.”