Leading the way to a cure

Lupus Research Update: 2011 Volume 3

Volume 3, 2011 - Online Edition | In This Issue

The Evolution of a Scientific Breakthrough >
Faces of Lupus: A Lupus Fighter with an Eye Toward the Future >
Exploring the Benefits of Planned Giving >
2011 ALR Grantees Announced >
Lupus News Corner >

The Evolution of a Scientific Breakthrough

Landmark Discovery Drives New Technology

Fast-paced advances in lupus research have given scientists the world over new insights into the nature of this disease, and the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR) has been — and continues to be — a major player in this process.

In just over a decade, the ALR has grown into the world’s largest private funder of lupus research and in 2005 we took a giant leap forward with the creation of the SLEGEN Consortium. This undertaking — unprecedented in its sample size and statistical power — brought the world’s top researchers together in a shared common purpose and collaborative spirit.

The result: SLEGEN struck gold with the landmark discovery of the first genetic markers for lupus. Carl Langefeld, PhD, a Co-Director of SLEGEN, credits the ALR for propelling the research:

"Thanks to ALR funding, the SLEGEN Consortium pulled in all these disparate investigators as part of a very large lupus association study that involved 10,000 individuals, spanning multiple ethnicities."

With ALR funding, 13 genetic markers for lupus were discovered in the initial investigation. Today, the number of genetic markers has grown to 40 — and SLEGEN has participated in three-quarters of these breakthroughs.

ImmunoChip: Paving the Way with Technology

The ALR has taken the advances of genetic research to a new level using an innovative technology called the ImmunoChip.

SLEGEN has allowed scientists to target their research to specific lupus-associated genes that have been recently discovered. And the ImmunoChip — with its array of specified biological compounds in micro-sized spots — builds on this linkage.

The new technology offers scientists the amazing ability to study hundreds of thousands of genes and their variants in each of a large number of participants. Dr. Robert Kimberly, a leading SLEGEN researcher and former ALR Scientific Advisory Board Member, says, "This is like shining a floodlight into the contributing genetic causes and biologic pathways of lupus."

In a new ALR-funded study already underway, SLEGEN and other researchers are using the ImmunoChip, and the knowledge base they have achieved, to accomplish three goals:

  • To add African, Asian, and Hispanic Americans to the study of European Americans — and learn how ethnicity affects one’s chance of developing lupus and severe complications. It is well known that African Americans with lupus are much more likely to experience complications
  • To study lupus together with 12 major autoimmune diseases, like diabetes and Crohn’s Disease — and help us understand how lupus is unique and how it is similar to other immune system diseases. By looking at so many autoimmune diseases together, the study may provide a much deeper look into the alterations of the immune system that cause disease.
  • To acquire evidence of particular gene variants that are related to lupus and to biologic processes or pathways, like the processes involving Interferon Alpha and Toll-like Receptors — and guide further research to see if such processes are indeed potential clues for stopping the development of lupus.

The realistic hope is that the ImmunoChip study will reveal, in enormously expanded detail, the critical roles that genetic variants and ethnicities play in predisposing an individual to developing lupus.

With such an extraordinarily talented team — including senior researcher Dr. Robert Kimberly and statistical geneticist Carl Langefeld, PhD — we are aiming to discover ways to interrupt the development of lupus at the genetic or molecular level.

Dr. Kimberly sums up the great value of this undertaking: "Our investigation is providing a deeper insight into the best potential targets for breakthroughs in diagnostics, prevention, treatment, and eventually a cure."

A statistical geneticist, Dr. Carl Langefeld, in his role as co-Director of the Biological Informatics Program at Wake Forest University, helped propel important discoveries linking genetics to numerous medical conditions, such as lupus.

Dr. Robert Kimberly, Senior Associate Dean for Research and Director of the University of Alabama, Birmingham, Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Center, is one of the world’s leading experts in autoimmune disease, including lupus.

1.5 million

people in the U.S. have Lupus.

172 million

dollars committed to lupus research by the Lupus Research Alliance.

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