New York, NY, March 23, 2023. The Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) today announced the recipients of the newest Lupus Innovation Award (LIA) grants. Collectively, the seven projects led by research teams from the U.S. and Europe explore multiple components of lupus, focusing on its causes and the development of more personalized approaches to lupus treatments. Since lupus has a broad range of causes and symptoms, studying the disease from different angles can maximize the overall understanding of the disease, leading to more effective treatment options.
“We are proud to be able to offer these grants, which support critical lupus research and encourage the development of novel therapeutic approaches. The talented Lupus Innovation Award recipients are pushing the edge of lupus research, with the goal of improving the lives of people with lupus,” said Teodora Staeva, Ph.D., Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer of LRA.
The LRA LIA grants provide support for pioneering, high-risk, high-reward approaches to significant challenges in lupus research. There is a particular emphasis on exploring fundamental mechanisms, novel disease targets for drug development, novel technologies, and interdisciplinary approaches. The Award offers up to $150,000 per year in total costs for up to two years. Early-stage investigators are eligible for an additional year of funding upon successful completion of the original grant.
2023 Lupus Innovation Award Grantees
Two projects aim to identify new drivers of lupus; two projects focus on exploring new therapeutic targets; and three projects seek to develop new approaches and tools to diagnose and monitor lupus complications.
Investigating and identifying new drivers of lupus
Ansuman Satpathy, M.D., Ph.D.; Stanford University School of Medicine
Dr. Satpathy and his team developed two new technologies to detect somatic mutations – changes in our genes which accumulate throughout a person’s life that may influence the progression of diseases such as lupus. This grant will help Dr. Satpathy look at somatic mutations in T cells and other immune cells in lupus patients and healthy individuals to learn how these mutations impact the immune system to provide new information leading to improved lupus diagnosis and treatment.
Salomé Pinho, Ph.D.; Institute for Research and Innovation in Health (i3S, Portugal)
Dr. Pinho will explore whether changes in a process called glycosylation – the addition of sugar chains (glycans) to proteins – in lupus kidneys promotes lupus disease development. This innovative study (from bedside to bench and back to bedside) addresses a topic that has not been previously explored in lupus and aims to provide new knowledge to pave the way for developing new targeted treatments.
Exploring new therapeutic targets
Sladjana Skopelja-Gardner, Ph.D.; Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center
Dr. Skopelja-Gardner will look at a protein called V-domain immunoglobulin suppressor of T cell activation (VISTA) to determine how it regulates interferon (IFN-I) production in the skin, which is excessively elevated at baseline and after Ultraviolet (UV) light exposure in lupus patients. This study will help the scientific community better understand how IFN-I production is controlled and open new therapeutic pathways to address lupus skin disease and photosensitivity.
Maximilian F. Konig, M.D.; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Dr. Konig studies antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), which is caused by hyperactive B cells that produce antibodies against a person’s own proteins. Thrombosis (blood clots) from APS is responsible for up to one third of deaths in lupus patients. Dr. Konig will use this award to develop a new protein-based precision treatment approach to target disease-causing B cells in APS. This research could lay the groundwork for highly optimized APS treatments in patients with lupus that would eliminate rogue B cells producing disease-causing antibodies without harming the normal B cells—a critical step in avoiding treatment-related complications such as infection.
Developing new approaches and tools to diagnose and/or monitor lupus complications
Andrea Fava, M.D.; Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Dr. Fava is working to identify novel biomarkers that suggest the development of lupus nephritis. These markers will be used to create a reliable selection of urine compounds that can predict the start of lupus nephritis before proteinuria can be detected. This research could lead to the development of a novel noninvasive test for the early detection of lupus nephritis before kidney damage occurs, providing more opportunities to prevent irreversible kidney damage in lupus patients.
Eric Gale, Ph.D.; Massachusetts General Hospital
Dr. Gale will address the significant unmet need for a technology to non-invasively diagnose and monitor lupus nephritis. This research utilizes a newly invented contrast dye for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The dye is injected and passes through normal kidney tissue in a form that is invisible to the MRI scanner. However, in the presence of inflamed kidney tissue such as in lupus nephritis, the contrast dye lights up instantly. The capability to visualize lupus nephritis activity will empower doctors to directly measure how patients respond to treatment without utilizing invasive biopsy (ie. removing a piece of kidney to study in a lab). Success in this work could profoundly improve the quality of care and thus quality of life for patients with lupus nephritis.
Mark DiFrancesco, Ph.D.; Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Dr. DiFrancesco will study neuropsychiatric lupus, affecting approximately 40% of people with lupus, and its association with leaky protective barriers between blood and brain tissues. This research will increase the understanding of how lupus impacts the brain and help identify new potential treatment targets for neuropsychiatric lupus.
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. Black/African Americans, Hispanic Americans, 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.