Leading the way to a cure


Modulating Renal Responses: A Novel Therapeutic Approach in Lupus Nephritis

Bagavant, Harini, MD, PhD

University of Virginia

Lupus glomerulonephritis (GN) is most common effect of lupus on the kidneys. It develops as a result of the abnormal immune response to self that is the hallmark of lupus, as well as from the infiltration of immune cells into the kidney. However, we still don’t know the exact mechanisms that result in the loss of kidney function.

Recent evidence suggests that kidney cells, especially glomerular mesangial cells, respond to the immune insult and contribute to the ultimate progression of the disease. Dr. Bagavant and her team have developed specialized cellular “vehicles” called immunoliposomes that can deliver drugs to the glomerulus in mice. They load the immunoliposomes with a fluorescent dye or a protein, inject them into the tail vein of normal and diseased mice, and watch as the carriers quickly move through the circulatory system to the glomerulus, primarily escaping detection from the immune system. Most importantly, these vehicles are able to deliver their contents directly to the mesangial cells. 

Dr. Bagavant and her team will use their grant to further study this sytem. They plan to load the immunoliposomes with different therapeutic agents that can block various molecules in mesangial cells, the same cells that make kidney disease worse. They will initially test these agents in a mouse model of GN, with the long-term goal of advancing to human studies. e neuronal damage in mice during specific periods of fetal development. 

What this study means for people with lupus: The concept of targeting therapies specifically to the organ affected by the autoimmune processes of lupus is a unique idea. If successful, it may open up a vast repertoire of therapeutic agents that can be used to treat lupus in humans.

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