NEW YORK, NY – August 24, 2022 – The Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) today announced its Global Team Science Award (GTSA) has been granted to three international research teams from 14 institutions across four continents comprised of leading experts spanning in immunology, rheumatology, neurosciences, biomedical engineering, genomics and genetics, and public health. With $3 million provided to each multidisciplinary team over three years, the GTSA supports interdisciplinary, collaborative, and highly synergistic projects that use groundbreaking technologies to accelerate effective, personalized lupus treatments. These highly prestigious awards are made possible by a generous grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
The 2022 GTSA will enable the work of teams headed by world-renowned lupus researchers Betty Diamond, M.D., Director of the Institute of Molecular Medicine and Maureen and Ralph Nappi Professor of Autoimmune Diseases, Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, United States; Martin Kriegel, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Rheumatology and Head of the Department of Translational Rheumatology and Immunology, University of Münster, Germany; and Eric Morand, M.D., Ph.D., Head of the School of Clinical Sciences, Monash University, Australia.
“We are thrilled to add three new and exciting programs to our Global Team Science Award,” said Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., LRA Chief Scientific Officer. “These three projects, selected from many compelling proposals, explore underlying causes of lupus heterogeneity and set the foundation for the future personalization of lupus treatments.”
Probing Heterogeneity in Immune Cell Behavior and Cognitive Function in SLE Patients in Remission
The two-part project led by corresponding investigator Dr. Diamond will help understand the immune system in patients in remission. The research will focus on identifying causes of lupus heterogeneity in SLE patients in remission. Studying patients in remission, and not on immunosuppressive medications, will help the team learn the different features of immune cells in patients in remission, whether any predict relapse, and how those change when patients relapse. In the second part, the researchers aim to determine if patients in remission experience SLE-related cognitive issues and if there is an association between brain function and immune cell features.
Dr. Diamond commented, “Our findings will help inform our understanding of immune cell heterogeneity in lupus patients. We also want to shed light on potential connections between immune cell abnormalities and cognitive complications, which may be an overlooked problem in SLE patients in remission.”
In addition to Dr. Diamond, co-principal investigators include:
- David Eidelberg, M.D., Susan and Leonard Feinstein Professor of Neurology and Neuroscience and Director, Center for Neurosciences, Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, United States
- Hilda Fragoso-Loyo, M.D. Professor, Immunology and Rheumatology Department, National Institute of Medical Science and Nutrition Salvador Zubirán, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Mexico
- David Isenberg, M.D., ARC Diamond Jubilee Professor and Academic Director of the University, Centre for Rheumatology and Bloomsbury Rheumatology Unit, University College London, United Kingdom
- Jimmie Chun Ye, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Medicine, Institute for Human Genetics, University of California, San Francisco, United States
Identifying Gut Microbes That Trigger Human SLE via Leaky Gut
Led by corresponding investigator Dr. Kriegel, this project will seek to understand the initial triggers for the misdirected immune system response that leads to lupus. The global research team will employ a comprehensive approach to uncover which microbes that escape the intestines via “leaky gut” trigger autoimmune inflammation in patients with active disease. The team will also investigate if and how transferring intestinal microbes suspected to cause or contribute to lupus in humans, triggers lupus in mice.
“Our past work in mice showed that microbes living in the digestive tract can trigger damaging immune system activity if they escape from the gut. Now, we are translating our research to SLE in humans to identify microbes that cause or worsen lupus, with the ultimate goal of developing a new set of lupus diagnostics and treatments that target the ‘bad’ gut bacteria,” said Dr. Kriegel.
In addition to Dr. Kriegel, co-principal investigators include:
- Ilana Brito, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Cornell University College of Engineering, United States
- Eran Elinav, M.D., Ph.D., Professor of Immunology, Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel and Director, Cancer-Microbiome Division, Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Heidelberg, Germany
- George Tsokos, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School and Chief of Rheumatology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, United States
- Nissan Yissachar, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Bar-Ilan University, Israel
Identifying Ancestry-Specific Lupus Molecular Profiles that Could Uncover New Genetic Causes of SLE
Corresponding investigator Dr. Morand and his team will aim to identify the distinct molecular pathways and the underlying genetics driving ancestral-specific differences in lupus symptoms. In their studies of five different ancestral groups (Europeans, Afro-Caribbean, South and East Asians, and Indigenous Australians), the team will use the latest scientific technological approaches to identify the ancestry-specific genetic variations associated with specific molecular pathways that are linked to lupus symptoms. The researchers will use advanced computational analysis of their enormous trove of data to identify potential genes that drive SLE.
“Our project explores the high variation in SLE symptoms and disease severity observed among different ancestral groups. This research will generate a massive amount of data that we can use to identify potential genes that drive or promote SLE. We hope these findings will identify new targets for treating or preventing lupus,” said Dr. Morand.
In addition to Dr. Morand, co-principal investigators include:
- Emma Davenport, Ph.D., Group Leader, Functional Genomics, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, United Kingdom
- Michael Inouye, Ph.D., Director of Research, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom
- James Peters, M.D., UKRI Innovation Fellow at Health Data Research UK and Clinical Reader in Rheumatology, Imperial College London, United Kingdom
- Timothy Vyse, Ph.D., Professor of Molecular Medicine, King’s College London, United Kingdom
Lupus is a chronic, complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. More than 90 percent of people with lupus are women; lupus most often strikes during the childbearing years of ages 15 to 45. African Americans, Latinx, Asians, and Native Americans are two to three times at greater risk than Caucasians. In lupus, the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, creates antibodies that can attack any part of the body including the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints.
About the Lupus Research Alliance Global Team Science Award (GTSA)
Incomplete understanding of the tremendous clinical and mechanistic heterogeneity of SLE – how it differs from person to person – remains a central challenge to developing safer and more effective treatments and to improving the standard of care for lupus patients. To address this impediment, the Lupus Research Alliance established the Global Team Science Award (GTSA) in 2020. The Award supports highly ambitious projects that build teams of established scientists from around the world to combine their expertise in diverse fields including technology, informatics (the study of information processing) immunology, and clinical research to work on a common project from distinct perspectives. It is expected that GTSA Teams will bring about breakthroughs with a high potential for transforming lupus care.
About the Lupus Research Alliance
The Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) is the largest non-governmental, non-profit funder of lupus research worldwide. The organization aims to transform treatment by funding the most innovative lupus research, fostering diverse scientific talent, and driving discovery toward better diagnostics, improved treatments and ultimately a cure for lupus. Because the LRA board of directors funds all administrative and fundraising costs, 100 percent of all donations supports lupus research programs.
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