Targeting EZH2 in Lupus
Dr. Sawalha discovered that the DNA of particular immune cells (CD4+ T cells) changes in people with lupus as the disease progresses. In a process called “methylation,” new molecules are added to the DNA like ornaments hung on a Christmas tree. Methylation of the DNA changes the proteins that are produced and the functions that are turned up or down in the cell. These changes cause the cells to be more active and, so, more able to damage organs. He also found that a protein called EZH2 is a key participant in DNA methylation in CD4+ T cells. With his Novel Research Grant, Dr. Sawalha will delve into the effects of EZH2-led methylation in CD4+ T cells in lupus and look for ways to disrupt the methylation process in CD4+ T cells using new or existing drugs.
What this study means for people with lupus
Dr. Sawalha is studying how the EZH2 protein changes the DNA in immune cells to make them more likely to launch an autoimmune attack on a person’s body. Importantly, several drugs that turn off this protein are already in clinical trials as potential cancer treatments. The results of Dr. Sawalha’s research could provide support for testing these new drugs to treat people with lupus as well.