2018 Lupus Insight Prize Presented to Dr. Betty Diamond
Funds Study of Common Hypertension Drugs to Treat Lupus
June 21, 2018
The Lupus Research Alliance has awarded its 2018 Lupus Insight Prize to Betty Diamond, MD, for a project to test commonly used drugs for high blood pressure as potential treatments for cognitive and emotional complications of lupus. The Prize also recognizes Dr. Diamond’s landmark discoveries in neuropsychiatric lupus that paved the way for this new work. Dr. Diamond is Professor and Head of The Center for Autoimmune Musculoskeletal and Hematopoietic Diseases at The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York.
The award was presented June 21 by Gerald T. Nepom, MD, PhD (Director, Immune Tolerance Network; Co-Chair Lupus Research Alliance Scientific Advisory Board at FOCIS 2018, the 18th Annual Meeting of the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies (FOCIS). The $100,000 award recognizes a major, novel insight and/or discovery with the promise of changing thinking about lupus as well as a high likelihood of generating further advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
“Dr. Diamond is one of the true greats in lupus research, and her contributions have been monumental,” said Kenneth M. Farber, President and CEO, Lupus Research Alliance. “The potential her work offers for approved drugs that have already been well studied and widely used to prevent neuropsychiatric complications of lupus is enormously exciting.”
Dr. Diamond’s study builds on two key discoveries she had made about the neuropsychiatric symptoms such as depression, anxiety, headaches, confusion, and memory loss that affect up to 80% of patients with lupus. How the disease leads to neuropsychiatric symptoms was unknown until 15 years ago, when Dr. Diamond identified abnormal antibodies as a potential cause. These molecules normally fight bacteria and viruses, but in about 30% to 40% of patients with lupus they enter the brain and trigger damage.
Dr. Diamond also discovered that when the antibodies cross into the brain, immune system cells known as microglia begin to behave abnormally. Instead of protecting the brain, microglia appear to attack nerve cells and remove branches on the cells that are necessary for several functions, including generating and retaining memories. When she and her colleagues treated mice with a chemical that eliminates microglia, they found that the branches on the animals’ brain cells remained intact.
That finding pointed to a simple way to attempt treatment of neuropsychiatric symptoms: the drugs known as ACE inhibitors. These frequently prescribed treatments for high blood pressure and heart failure also inhibit microglia. With the Insight Prize funding, Diamond and her colleagues will now test whether ACE inhibitors reduce cognitive symptoms in mice. She and her team will measure the effects on the animals’ faculties, particularly the ability to remember the location of objects. “Positive results in mice could lead to clinical trials of ACE inhibitors in patients with lupus,” said Dr. Diamond. The drugs’ long track record of safety—they have been approved since the 1970s—could allow such trials to begin fairly soon, she noted.
A second part of the study aims to identify potential new avenues for preventing neuropsychiatric symptoms. Dr. Diamond and her colleagues will measure whether ACE inhibitors change the activity of different genes in the microglia of mice. That analysis may reveal targets for the development of new types of drugs that can potentially prevent microglia from attacking nerve cells and preserve patients’ memory.
Lupus is a chronic, complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. More than 90% of people with lupus are women; lupus most often strikes during the childbearing years of 15-45. African Americans, Latin Americans, 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
The Lupus Research Alliance aims to transform treatment while advancing toward a cure by funding the most innovative lupus research in the world. The organization’s stringent peer review grant process fosters diverse scientific talent who are driving discovery toward better diagnostics, improved treatments and ultimately a cure for lupus. Because the Lupus Research Alliance’s Board of Directors fund all administrative and fundraising costs, 100% of all donations goes to support lupus research programs.
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