New Approach to Treating Lupus Nephritis
New Approach to Treating Lupus Nephritis

February 6, 2019

Scientists partly funded by the Lupus Research Alliance have found a potential new way to protect the kidneys in patients with lupus. A study led by Dr. Vicki Rubin Kelley of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, suggests that blocking a molecule made by some cells in the kidney could reduce the amount of organ damage.

Almost half of patients with lupus develop inflammation in the kidneys, known as lupus nephritis, that can eventually cause them to stop working. Immune cells known as macrophages help promote this inflammation and spur kidney damage. Researchers have known that the molecule interleukin-34, which is made by kidney cells, stimulates these macrophages, but they didn’t know whether interleukin-34 also helps prompt lupus nephritis.

With her Target Identification in Lupus grant from the Lupus Research Alliance, Dr. Kelley and her team tested whether interleukin-34  does cause lupus nephritis by studying mice that develop lupus symptoms. As lupus nephritis in these mice grew worse, the amount of interleukin-34 in their kidneys also rose. However, mice that had been genetically altered so they couldn’t make interleukin-34 suffered less kidney damage, suggesting that interleukin-34 helps promote that damage.

The researchers also detected high levels of interleukin-34 in blood and urine samples from patients with lupus nephritis, indicating that the molecule likely plays a similar role in people. Dr. Kelley and her colleagues are now working to develop a possible treatment for lupus nephritis that blocks interleukin-34.

The paper was published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology

Understanding what causes lupus nephritis and how to improve treatment is a major research area for the Lupus Research Alliance.  In 2018, two of our Target Identification in Lupus (TIL) grants, two Novel Research Grants (NRG) and one Distinguished Innovator Award (DIA) focus on this serious complication that affects up to 50% of people with lupus.  For instance, Chandra Mohan, MD, PhD, University of Houston is building on his existing discoveries to evaluate a potential new therapeutic target for lupus nephritis. Janos Peti-Peterdi, MD, PhD, University of Southern California studies has developed a pioneering research technique, known as “intravital imaging,” to use a highly sensitive microscope to directly examine in fine detail the kidneys in an animal model of lupus. With his TIL grant, Dr. Peti-Peterdi will also test two potential treatments for lupus nephritis and observe whether they are effective at repairing the kidneys by regenerating damaged cells.

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