NEW YORK, March 25, 2021 — The Lupus Research Alliance proudly announces two exceptional recipients of the 2020 Dr. William E. Paul Distinguished Innovator Award in Lupus and Autoimmunity: Jacques Banchereau, PhD and Ignacio Sanz, MD. Both projects funded by this grant are investigating different mechanisms altered in lupus patients that induce an autoimmune response. Their findings could lead to the development of more precise treatments to prevent lupus onset or progression.
Dr. Banchereau is Professor and Director, Immunological Sciences, at The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine. Dr. Ignacio Sanz serves as Mason I. Lowance Professor of Medicine and Pediatrics and Chief, Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine at Emory University School of Medicine as well as Director of The Lowance Center for Human Immunology at the Emory University/Children’s Health Care of Atlanta.
“We are excited about the promise of the two Distinguished Innovator Award projects selected for 2020,” commented Dr. Teodora Staeva, Chief Scientific Officer at the Lupus Research Alliance. “Both examine important underlying mechanisms of the autoimmune response and could point the way to potential new treatment approaches.”
Determining Which Immune Cell Type Initiates the Autoimmune Reaction in Lupus
Dr. Banchereau found an increased population of specific immune cells called dendritic cells in people with high lupus disease activity 20 years ago and hypothesized that these cells may trigger the autoimmune response. At the time of the initial discovery, the technology did not exist to further study these dendritic cells. This award will now allow Dr. Banchereau to use cutting-edge technology to isolate these dendritic cells from lupus patients and investigate their potential role as well as potential treatment approaches.
Targeting Autoantibody-Producing B Cells
Dr. Sanz has found that even at a very early phase in their development, B cells that produce autoantibodies already have lupus-specific genetic changes that allow them to continue growing when they would normally be destroyed. Dr. Sanz plans to use the Distinguished Innovator Award to further probe the genetic pathways that allow these misguided B cells to mature in lupus patients. This work should help researchers develop more personalized therapies and will build on Dr. Sanz’s earlier research in which he showed that a drug that eliminates B cells can be effective in treating lupus.
The Distinguished Innovator Awards
The Dr. William E. Paul Distinguished Innovator Award in Lupus and Autoimmunity was established in 2012 under the leadership of the late Dr. Bill Paul, former Chief of the Laboratory of Immunology at the National Institutes of Health. The Award encourages exceptional investigators worldwide to pursue innovative research projects that pair unconventional creativity with sound science to uncover the fundamental causes of lupus. Their research is expected to accelerate the development of novel treatments that prevent, arrest, or cure lupus and its complications.
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. 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 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.
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