Lupus Research Alliance Announces Seven Recipients of the 2020 Lupus Innovation Award
Lupus Research Alliance Announces Seven Recipients of the 2020 Lupus Innovation Award

NEW YORK, NY, November 9, 2020. The Lupus Research Alliance proudly announced today the 2020 Lupus Innovation Award recipients. These seven projects represent a wide breadth of scientific exploration in lupus, probing the development and progression of lupus while pointing to potential treatment approaches.

The Lupus Innovation Award offers up to $150,000/year total costs for up to two years. In addition, early-stage investigators are eligible for an additional third year of funding contingent upon successful completion of the original grant. The Award provides support for highly innovative approaches to major challenges in lupus research with a special emphasis on exploring fundamental mechanisms, novel targets for drug development, novel technologies, and interdisciplinary approaches.

Several of the grants focus on unraveling the underlying causes of lupus, which still remain unknown. Such an understanding is essential for the ultimate goal of developing new therapies. Four grants focus on how signaling molecules within the immune system become active even when there is no apparent threat, causing harmful inflammation. Two others will try to predict, prevent, and treat additional challenges faced by children with lupus—kidney disease and blood vessel injury. Cognitive difficulties are the focus of another project.

Immune Signaling Molecules in Lupus

Simone Caielli, PhD, Drukier Institute for Children’s Health, Weill Medical College  
The Role of Mitochondria in Lupus Development
Dr. Caielli has found that different cell populations in patients with lupus have dysfunctional mitochondria –structures in the cell that break down nutrients and create energy-rich molecules. He plans to investigate if those abnormalities might be important for lupus disease severity and if targeting these abnormalities may be helpful in creating new therapies.

Keith B. Elkon, MD, University of Washington
How Interferons Cause Inflammation in Lupus
Dr. Elkon will explore how skin exposure to ultraviolet radiation, like that from the sun, can trigger lupus flares through immune signaling, which leads to production of interferon beta.

Vipin Kumar, PhD, The University of California, San Diego
Using Regulatory Immune Cells to Treat Lupus
Dr. Kumar has identified a new population of T regulatory cells that controls inflammation in tissues, including kidney. He aims to explore if these cells are defective in lupus, and whether stimulating or injecting these T cells might be an effective therapy for kidney disease.

Hu Zeng, PhD, Mayo Clinic
Blocking Antibody Production to Treat Lupus
Dr. Zeng has shown that blocking the signaling molecule mTORC2 in mouse models of lupus calms their immune systems; with his grant he will explore if the same holds true using cells from people with lupus.

Children With Lupus

Elena Wen-Yuan Hsieh, MD, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus; Children’s Hospital Colorado
Looking at the Kidney Cells of Children with Lupus
Dr. Hsieh will make two-dimensional maps of children’s kidneys, showing which immune cells are present and where they live. She wants to see how the structure of lupus kidneys differs from healthy kidneys and how this architecture drives kidney disease in pediatric lupus.

Joyce Chang, MD, MSCE, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
Blood Vessel Damage in Children with Lupus
Dr. Chang plans to monitor changes in blood vessel health over time in teens with lupus. The goal is to find early markers of blood vessel injury that might put them at later risk of heart disease, so they can be treated early.

Cognitive Impairments in Lupus

Zahi Touma, MD, PhD, University Health Network, Toronto, Canada
Predicting Cognitive Deficiencies in People with Lupus
Dr. Touma will assess the cognitive abilities of lupus patients over time to try to find markers to predict which of them is at risk of developing cognitive impairments such as problems with thinking and memory, so they can be prepared and have an optimal quality of life.

Collectively, these seven projects explore multiple components of lupus from its impact on the skin and the kidneys to the cardiovascular and cognitive manifestations. Approaching the disease from different vantage points can maximize the chances of homing in on viable treatment options that can be developed further.

Lupus Research Alliance Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Teodora Staeva commented, “In addition to funding highly innovative research projects, the LRA is supporting early-career investigators in lupus. We look forward to the results of this most recent LRA investment.”

About Lupus
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 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 fund all administrative and fundraising costs, 100% of all donations goes to support lupus research programs.

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