February 1, 2019
Raised levels of a protein osteopontin were shown to indicate lupus nephritis and higher disease activity, in a new study conducted at 33 centers by top lupus researchers worldwide. Published in The Journal of Rheumatology, the study looked at results from 344 lupus patients.
At the beginning of the study (baseline), patients with lupus had four-times the level of osteopontin compared with healthy volunteers. Among people with lupus, levels of osteopontin were higher among men than women and among non-Caucasians compared with Caucasians. Lupus disease activity was also higher among non-Caucasians at baseline.
Patients were followed every year for five years, assessing their disease activity and kidney damage. The initial raised levels correlated with lupus nephritis and lower kidney function but did not predict kidney damage over the five years.
Based on their results, investigators concluded: “We suggest that raised osteopontin at SLE onset identify cases with risk of high and persistent disease activity but may not necessarily lead to accrual of damage within 5 years of followup.”
As a common and serious complication, lupus nephritis is a major research area for the Lupus Research Alliance with several grants a year directed at understanding its cause and improving treatment. For instance, with support from her Novel Research Grant, Dr. Laurence Morel at University of Florida will test combinations of sugar-reducing drugs like metformin, a drug widely used in diabetes, with three standard lupus treatments to see whether depriving immune cells of energy from sugar can slow the disease or reverse kidney damage in lupus models.