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Diversity in Lupus Research Career Development Award


The Diversity in Lupus Research Career Development Award ($600,000 over four years) supports outstanding early-career underrepresented minority scientists to establish a competitive independent research program in the lupus research area.

2022 Award

Ashira Blazer, MD, MSCI
Assistant Attending Physician
Hospital for Special Surgery
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Weill Cornell Medical College

Ancestrally African (AA) patients suffer more from systemic lupus erythematosus-associated kidney inflammation known as lupus nephritis, compared to patients of European ancestry. AA patients with lupus nephritis are more likely to have genetic changes in a gene called APOL1. However, there is no non-invasive test to determine if lupus nephritis is progressing, which is a critical unmet need, for all lupus patients including the higher risk AA population.

Dr. Ashira Blazer will use LRA’s Career Development Award to build upon her preliminary research which successfully separated lupus nephritis patients from non-lupus nephritis patients based on the cells found in the lupus patient urine. Dr. Blazer’s research team will study systemic lupus erythematosus patient urinary sediment – the matter that settles to the bottom of the urine composed of immune cells and microbes. They aim to identify relationships between the cells and their unique genetic makeup, lupus nephritis, and treatment outcomes. A unique multi-national AA systemic lupus erythematosus patient group will be used in this study, which will provide a new opportunity to learn more about lupus nephritis in a high-risk and understudied patient group.

What this study means for people with lupus
Study findings will allow physicians to better assess the progression of damage to kidney tissue related to lupus nephritis.

Andrea Knight, MD, MSCE
Clinician Investigator
The Hospital for Sick Children (Canada)

Approximately 20% of patients with the chronic autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus have childhood-onset, meaning they developed lupus as children. The brain is affected in up to 70% of adolescents with childhood-onset lupus. Systemic lupus erythematosus-induced brain inflammation can cause problems with thinking or cognition which affects school performance, daily activities, and overall quality of life. Past Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) studies showed that the cognition challenges are associated with changes in brain structure. In some patients, these changes persist into adulthood. However, the medical community does not know which adolescents with lupus are most at risk for the structural brain changes.

Dr. Andrea Knight’s goal is to find ways to detect the brain changes early and prevent progression. Healthy adolescents and lupus patients will be invited to participate in a three-year study. At each visit the study participants will complete tests evaluating cognitive function, a brain MRI, and a blood test. Dr. Knight’s research team will look at inflammation markers and brain injury markers in the blood and analyze that information in combination with the MRI and cognitive function tests.

What this study means for people with lupus
Results of Dr. Knight’s study could provide new means to identify young lupus patients at risk for lupus-associated cognitive changes that may allow healthcare providers to prevent the cognitive impairment progression in childhood-onset lupus early in disease.

Erika Moore, PhD
Rhines Rising Star Assistant Professor
University of Florida

The connection between ancestry and lupus is not well understood. Understanding this connection will improve treatment options for lupus patients of African ancestry, who are more likely to develop serious complications compared to patients of European ancestry.

Dr. Erika Moore will use this Career Development Award to study immune cells called monocytes in lupus-related inflammation in blood vessels. Lupus causes many symptoms and complications, including vasculitis or inflammation of the blood vessel, which leads to the development of cardiovascular disease. Monocytes are immune cells that can promote blood vessel inflammation, and their functions may be influenced by ancestry. Dr. Moore’s research team will look at monocytes from women of African and European ancestry, with and without lupus, to determine how monocytes promote promote blood vessel inflammation. This method will allow Dr. Moore and her team to understand how lupus and ancestry influence monocyte functions. The researchers will also look at how the monocytes interact with blood vessels to influence inflammation.

What this study means for people with lupus
This study will help the lupus medical community understand how ancestry influences lupus-related blood vessel inflammation, which will help with the development of new therapeutic options for patients at higher risk of developing lupus-induced cardiovascular disease.

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