May 11, 2021
The Lupus Research Alliance is pleased to share the following article by one of our grantees Dr. Andrea Knight on hopeful developments in neuropsychiatric lupus and how her own research is improving mental health among children with lupus. Supporting major research advances is how the LRA fulfills its mission to Lift Up Lupus every day of the year.
Written by Andrea Knight, MD, MSCE, Staff Physician, Division of Rheumatology, The Hospital for Sick Children; Associate Scientist, SickKids Research Institute, Neurosciences and Mental Health Program; and Associate Professor of Paediatrics, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toronto.
“There is increasingly more exciting research going on for neuropsychiatric lupus – the effects on mental health if lupus attacks the brain and nervous system. It is a very challenging area of study, and neuropsychiatric lupus has also been difficult to diagnose and treat. This is because we have limited diagnostic tools, few treatment options, and treatment side effects are many.
But with new technologies and new perspectives from investigators studying other neurologic and psychiatric diseases, we are using innovative approaches to understanding and treating neuropsychiatric lupus. We can move towards understanding the underlying mechanisms for how lupus affects the brain, and then target these mechanisms to develop treatments.
As a pediatric rheumatologist and lupus researcher, I am conducting studies to understand how lupus in childhood affects the developing brain. This is a vulnerable period, and a significant portion of children with lupus experience psychosis, depression, anxiety and cognitive impairment. These symptoms can have a major adverse impact on their lives.
To find better diagnostic and treatment approaches, we are using advanced imaging with brain (magnetic resonance imaging) MRI. We are finding that brain changes are occurring early in the course of lupus disease. These changes are associated with impaired psychiatric and cognitive function, and we are working on understanding how these changes relate to lupus inflammation and treatments. The hope is that we will be able to use advanced brain imaging, along with other markers of disease activity, to better diagnose and treat neuropsychiatric lupus.”