University of Southern Maine Professor Researches Causes of Lupus

With support from the LRI, Dr. Stephen Pelsue has identified a gene which could provide insight into how lupus develops in its early stages

By USM Public Affairs

Dr. Stephen PelsueWith funding from the Lupus Research Institute, Dr. Stephen Pelsue (pictured at right) has identified a gene (Ttc7) that has caused flaky skin in mice, a condition that shares similar features with human autoimmunity and lupus—one of the most serious autoimmune diseases.

Autoimmunity occurs when the immune response attacks its own cells and tissues, rather than fighting off infections. Besides lupus, prominent examples among humans are celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Very difficult to diagnose, lupus arises more often in women than men and can affect many different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart, and lungs. Estimates indicate that as many as 1.5 million Americans have lupus, and there has been no FDA-approved therapeutic in 50 years.

The Pelsue Laboratory at USM, including undergraduates, master- and doctoral-level students, is participating in efforts to uncover the function of the gene and to find a specific pathway between it and the other genes with which it interacts. These studies could help gain significant insights into how lupus develops in its early stages. If so, the team ultimately hopes to contribute to earlier identification of the disease and possible ways to help modify it.

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