LRI’s 2015 Novel Research Grants Drive Discovery in Promising New Directions

Dr. Erika Boesen Dr. Michael Stein Dr. Martin Kriegel Dr. Edith Janssen Dr. Robert Anthony
  Dr. Marko Radic Dr. Mark Walter Dr. Iouri Chepelev  
  Dr. Kate Fitzgerald Dr. Hideki Ueno Dr. Anne Davidson  

As the Lupus Research Institute (LRI) celebrates its 15th anniversary, the engine of innovation moves forward at accelerated speed with the announcement of this year’s Novel Research Grants bringing new talent from a wide diversity of specialties.  Each project lives up to the strictest definition of novel – wholly original, never-been-done-before.

Strategies for Better, Safer Treatments
Five studies will test high-risk, highly original approaches to controlling lupus.

  • Reducing iron levels to treat kidney damage? Dr. Erika Boesen (University of Nebraska) will test for the first time if an abnormal accumulation of iron in the kidney could cause damage, pointing the way for testing existing drugs that reduce iron levels as potential treatments for lupus nephritis.
  • Could cutting down on salt reduce inflammation? Dr. Michael Stein (Vanderbilt University) will use the innovative MRI technology he developed to examine the first time if lupus patients have excess salt in their skin and determine if restricting salt in the diet can reduce inflammation.
  • Adjusting your own microbiome through diet? Dr. Martin Kriegel (Yale University) will explore if targeting bacteria in the gut through diet or antibiotics can protect from a dangerous blood clotting complication. 
  • Treatment by boosting an immune system regulator? Dr. Edith Janssen (Cincinnati Children’s Hospital) will investigate if a molecule found at abnormally low levels in lupus patients that regulates the immune system could be boosted as a target for therapy.
  • Using antibodies to lower inflammation? Dr. Robert Anthony (Massachusetts General Hospital) will test if antibodies that normally promote inflammation in lupus can be made anti-inflammatory and used as a treatment.”

Innovative Technologies to Advance New Therapies and Understanding of Lupus
Bringing emerging technologies into lupus research, LRI pushes the boundaries of discovery and advances innovative new therapies.  Three new studies use cutting-edge technology to answer key questions in lupus.

  • Can anti-cancer technology stop harmful B cells from attacking? Dr. Marko Radic (University of Tennessee) will investigate if highly effective technology for killing cancerous B cells in leukemia patients can remove the harmful B cells in lupus patients that attack the body’s own cells and tissues. 
  • Which interferons should a new treatment target? Dr. Mark Walter (University of Alabama at Birmingham) will apply innovative and highly sensitive technology to pinpoint which of the 17 known interferon proteins contribute most to symptoms and severity of lupus. The goal is to provide data to design more precise interferon inhibitors that reduce lupus symptoms and help doctors predict the onset of disease symptoms.
  • Which genes cause lupus and identify those at risk? Dr. Iouri Chepelev (Cincinnati Children's Hospital) will look at how genes interact to provoke lupus by using cutting-edge technology to map for the first time the position of lupus-associated genes within the three-dimensional structure of the cell’s DNA.  With this map, they will be able to locate specific genes that make people susceptible to lupus, which could help identify those at risk for lupus and speed diagnosis. 

Redirecting the Signals that Control the Immune System in Lupus
Three LRI researchers are exploring newly discovered signals between immune cells that instruct them to attack or hold back.

  • Can one molecule slam on the brakes? Dr. Kate Fitzgerald (University of Massachusetts) will test if a specific molecule protects against lupus by jamming dangerous inflammatory signals --research that could lead to development of new anti-inflammatory treatments.
  • Can we block the signal to stop dangerous T cells? Dr. Hideki Ueno (Baylor Research Institute) will investigate if blocking a specific protein responsible for sending signals between immune cells can eliminate dangerous ‘helper’ T cells that drive the immune system to attack.
  • Does a faulty biological clock contribute to kidney damage? Dr. Anne Davidson (Feinstein Institute for Medical Research) will test her theory that disturbances to the body’s biological clock contribute to the lupus immune system’s attack on the kidneys. If so, drugs could be developed to correct the clock and treat lupus nephritis.

“Distinguished by an extraordinary openness to the unexpected, the LRI nurtures risk-taking to pursue true innovation,” said President and CEO Margaret Dowd. “This cornerstone strategy has demonstrated solid success – achieving some of the most pivotal discoveries in lupus of the last decade. Novel research is the proven path to breakthroughs that transform patients’ lives with better treatments while moving closer to a cure.”