NEW YORK, NY, June 9, 2022. The Lupus Research Alliance (LRA), the world’s leading private funder of lupus research, today announced inaugural recipients of Career Development and Postdoctoral Awards to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research. The Diversity in Lupus Research Award funding mechanisms aim to address underrepresentation of minorities in the scientific research profession.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease that disproportionally affects underrepresented minorities in both prevalence and disease severity. To encourage the development of talented underrepresented minority early-career scientists and postdoctoral fellows, the LRA launched two new award mechanisms. This year, three outstanding early-career underrepresented minority scientists will receive the Career Development Award to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research, which provides up to $600,000 over four years. The recipients are Ashira Blazer, MD, MSCI, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS); Andrea Knight, MD, MSCE The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids); and Erika Moore, PhD, University of Florida.
Two promising postdoctoral research fellows, Ruth Fernandez Ruiz, MD, from Hospital for Special Surgery and Vanessa Wacleche, PhD, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, are the recipients of the Postdoctoral Award to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research. This award provides fellows with $170,000 over two years to support projects and the generation of data needed to become an independent lupus researcher.
Ashira Blazer, MD, MSCI, Hospital for Special Surgery
Dr. Blazer will build upon her preliminary research, which successfully separated lupus nephritis patients from non-lupus nephritis patients through the analysis of the sediment found in the lupus patient urine. The potential clinical use of the non-invasive urine-based test will be confirmed using a larger multi-national SLE patient group with African ancestry, which will provide a new opportunity to learn more about lupus nephritis in a high-risk and understudied patient group.
Andrea Knight, MD, MSCE, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
Dr. Knight is studying ways to detect brain changes in high-risk adolescent patients with childhood-onset lupus, by comparing inflammation markers, brain MRIs, and cognitive function tests from healthy adolescents and lupus patients. Since little is known about which adolescents with lupus are most at risk for the structural brain changes that affect cognition, this research aims to find ways to detect the brain changes early and identify potential new treatments.
Erika Moore, PhD, University of Florida
Dr. Moore will look at monocytes from women of African and European ancestry, with and without lupus, to determine how monocytes promote lupus-related blood vessel inflammation (vasculitis). Understanding how lupus and ancestry affect monocyte functions will help the lupus medical community learn how ancestry influences lupus-related blood vessel inflammation and identify treatments for patients at higher risk of developing lupus-induced cardiovascular disease.
Ruth Fernandez Ruiz, MD, Hospital for Special Surgery
Dr. Fernandez Ruiz will investigate how permanent changes in our genetic makeup, called gene variants, influence lupus development and progression. By studying how genetic variants in the PRKG1 gene affect lupus, the research team may identify new biological pathways that could be targeted to reduce the inflammation in lupus patients caused by high levels of interferon alpha.
Vanessa Wacleche, PhD, Brigham and Women’s Hospital
Dr. Wacleche will study how T peripheral helper (Tph) cells misdirect the immune response seen in systemic lupus erythematosus via an inflammatory molecule CXCL13, which may lead to the production of organ damaging autoantibodies. The new findings generated by this research could suggest strategies to control CXCL13 production that may eventually lead to the development of novel treatments for lupus patients.
Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., LRA Chief Scientific Officer said, “We congratulate the inaugural recipients of our Diversity in Lupus Research Awards and look forward to seeing how their research findings advance our understanding of lupus and result in the development of new treatment options for lupus patients. The Career Development and Postdoctoral Awards to Promote Diversity in Lupus Research funding mechanisms are our most recent initiatives to alleviate the disparities that are prevalent in both autoimmune diseases and biomedical research.”
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 15-45. Ancestrally African, South and Central American, and Native Americans have two to three times higher risk of developing lupus than Americans with European ancestry. 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 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 Lupus Research Alliance’s Board of Directors funds all administrative and fundraising costs, 100% of all donations goes to support lupus research programs.