NEW YORK, NY. April 29. Lupus can harm many organs in the body, including the kidneys. A new study led by Dr. Hans Haecker of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis found that the cells that provoke kidney damage are different than those that injure other organs. In part funded by a grant from the Lupus Research Alliance, this discovery suggests a potential new treatment approach for protecting the kidneys.
About half of people with lupus suffer from kidney inflammation, known as lupus nephritis. The condition can become so severe that dialysis or kidney transplants are necessary. Many researchers suspect that this damage occurs because immune system proteins called antibodies build up in the kidneys. Antibodies normally protect the body against dangerous microbes, but patients with lupus produce antibodies that attack their own DNA and may spur kidney inflammation.
However, some results don’t support that explanation. Drugs that kill B cells, which make antibodies, haven’t worked well against lupus nephritis, for instance.
Dr. Haecker and colleagues studied mice models with lupus and found evidence that another type of immune cell was triggering kidney damage—so-called patrolling monocytes. These cells normally appear to monitor the integrity of blood vessels during inflammation. Dr. Haecker’s study found that these cells get stuck and accumulate in the kidney glomeruli, the critical part of the kidneys were blood is filtrated.
When the researchers tested genetically modified mice models with low numbers of patrolling monocytes, they found little kidney damage. However, other organs, such as the spleen, sustained similar damage.
Dr. Haecker’s team discovered that patients’ kidneys also contain large numbers of patrolling monocytes. They suspect that the cells enter the organs and stimulate the early stages of kidney inflammation. If they are right, researchers might be able to develop treatments that prevent kidney damage by reducing the cells’ abundance in the organs or blocking their harmful effects.
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, Latinx, 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.