NEW YORK, NY – October 25, 2012 – The 12th annual Lupus Research Institute (LRI) Scientific Conference “Forum for Discovery” brought together more than 60 of the country’s top experts in the field to focus their talent on addressing the critical questions in the autoimmune disease lupus. LRI-funded investigators presented new findings on a broad range of topics including genetic factors that predispose certain individuals to lupus, how the lupus immune system turns against the body, and novel approaches to treat the disease.
A focal question of this year’s two-day think tank was how to stem the destructive cycle of inflammation and organ damage in lupus. In lupus, inflammation is one of the most common causes of damage to vital organs such as the heart, brain, and kidneys. It results from the immune system attacking the body’s own tissues as if there were an infection to fight off. Two guest speakers, Drs. Eric Pamer at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Charles Serhan at Harvard Medical School, shared pivotal advances in inflammation, stimulating an exchange on how their discoveries can influence lupus research.
LRI-funded investigators reported breakthrough results that have implications not only in lupus but also for the autoimmune diseases affecting 23.5 million Americans. Findings include:
- New insight into how the brain talks to the immune system to suppress inflammation in lupus was shared by Dr. Jane Salmon at Hospital for Special Surgery. Dr. Salmon’s discovery may lead to a whole new approach to lupus treatment.
- Dr. Carla Rothlin at Yale University reported that a blood protein (protein S) known to be low in lupus patients helps to turn off inflammation. This discovery could lead to new drugs that harness the power of protein S to treat lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
- Dr. Anne Davidson, The Feinstein Institute, is using a new approach to find out why an existing rheumatoid arthritis drug anti-TNF can be protective in lupus kidney disease but also induces potentially harmful autoantibodies. Her findings suggest it may be possible to develop improved anti-TNF drugs that eliminate negative effects.
- The “hot” new topic in lupus, epigenetics, was the focus of a presentation by Dr. Amr Sawalha at University of Michigan. Epigenetics tells us how the environment may activate a gene that triggers lupus; importantly this change can also be passed on to the next generation. Dr. Sawalha’s work brings a long-sought missing piece to the puzzle of how lupus is inherited.
“The work presented at this Forum demonstrates the tremendous success of the LRI’s strategic approach of funding the most novel scientific ideas in lupus,” noted world-leading immunologist Dr. William Paul, LRI Scientific Advisory Board Chairman and National Academy of Sciences member. “The LRI continues to thrive on the union of scientists with the passion to pursue the most innovative scientific ideas with the patients and families who share that same passion to find new treatments and a cure for the disease.”
Advancing new lupus treatments
Overcoming the many serious challenges impeding lupus drug development was the focus of an industry forum bringing together government, academia, and industry. One particularly well-received suggestion was to reduce the higher failure rate of drugs at late stage clinical trials by using biological tests (biomarkers) to show much earlier in development whether a drug is safe and has the expected biological effect.
Also featured at the Forum were presentations by Drs. Ann Marshak-Rothstein at University of Massachusetts Medical School and Greg Barton at University of California, Berkeley, the two outstanding recipients of LRI’s new Distinguished Innovators Award. The first $1 million privately funded international award for academic lupus research, the Distinguished Innovators initiative was created to find the basic causes of lupus that can drive towards a cure.