2019 Lupus Insight Prize Awarded to Ignacio Sanz, MD
2019 Lupus Insight Prize Awarded to Ignacio Sanz, MD

Thinking outside the box” is jargon that often rings hollow—but not so when it’s used to describe the ideas generated by Ignacio Sanz, MD, world-renowned expert on autoimmunity.

Dr. Sanz recently discovered that certain little-understood immune system cells are a major source of the harmful proteins that promote lupus symptoms. This breakthrough has the potential to alter the course of lupus research forever.

In recognition of his groundbreaking work, the Lupus Research Alliance awarded Dr. Sanz the 2019 Lupus Insight Prize.

The prize of $100,000 was designed to acknowledge a major, novel insight and/or discovery—such as Dr. Sanz’s—which has the promise of shifting the lupus paradigm. It is also the hope of the LRA that the award will generate further advances in the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

“Dr. Sanz has already made invaluable contributions,” said Kenneth M. Farber, President and CEO, Lupus Research Alliance. “We look forward to his next advances afforded by our Lupus Insight Prize.” The LRA believes Dr. Sanz’s study could spark new treatments for the disease and help doctors determine the best course of action for their patients.

Specifics on the Investigation

Researchers have known for some time that some B cells must mature in specialized parts of the lymph nodes or spleen before they can make these destructive antibodies.

But Dr. Sanz has shown that many damaging B cells follow a different route. And, he identified the molecular mechanisms that underpin this B cell activation pathway.

He and his team were the first to apply a comprehensive characterization of these cells using cutting-edge techniques such as multidimensional flow cytometry analysis of DNA in lupus patients. They found that this group of B cells was prevalent in patients who were undergoing lupus flares, particularly African Americans.

Dr. Sanz and his colleagues also found that, in contrast to healthy subjects, the lupus B cells were ready to transform into cells that produce harmful antibodies, even in patients without active disease.

Looking forward, researchers may be able to build on Dr. Sanz’s discoveries to identify new therapeutic targets and to develop treatment tailored to each person.

In accepting the prize, Dr. Sanz gratefully acknowledged the LRA: “I am deeply humbled and honored by this award. I thank the LRA for recognizing my work, and I am eager to pursue further research with the potential for improving patient treatment.”

The LRA congratulates Dr. Sanz on his discovery and wishes him further success. We look forward to his future breakthroughs in reducing patients’ risks and severity of disease flares. Dr. Sanz is truly able to think outside the box—and every lupus patient stands to benefit from it.

Dr. Sanz is the Mason I. Lowance Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and Chief of the Division of Rheumatology at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia.

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