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Diversity in Lupus Research Postdoctoral Award


The Diversity in Lupus Research Postdoctoral Award ($170,000 over 2 years) supports qualified and promising underrepresented minority scientists to generate scientific data and unique research ideas necessary to ultimately transition to an independent lupus researcher role.

2022 Award

Ruth Fernandez Ruiz, MD
Assistant Attending Physician, Hospital for Special Surgery
Assistant Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a complex disease with variable symptoms and links to many permanent changes in our genetic makeup that are known as gene variants. Previous research by other lupus investigators has shown that the variation in the PRKG1 gene, which has functions in many biological processes, is associated with high levels of inflammatory substance produced by cells in the body that is called interferon alpha. Interferon alpha is thought to cause lupus development and progression.

Dr. Ruth Fernandez Ruiz will use LRA’s Postdoctoral Award to study differences in the amount of interferon alpha produced by immune cells such as plasmacytoid dendritic cells, which are the lead producer of inflammatory interferons, in patients with and without the PRKG1 genetic risk variant. Two additional immune T cell types called Th17 and regulatory T cells are of interest to Dr. Fernandez Ruiz as well due to their key role in controlling lupus-associated inflammation. By studying the plasmacytoid dendritic cells and two types of T cells from patients with and without the PRKG1 genetic risk variant, the research team will identify new biological pathways that can be targeted to reduce the inflammation in lupus patients related to high levels of interferon alpha.

What this study means for people with lupus
This study led by Dr. Fernandez Ruiz will provide researchers with a better understanding of PRKG1 genetic variation and the related pathways that may yield new potential lupus drug targets for lupus patients with the PRKG1 risk variant.

Vanessa Wacleche, PhD
Postdoctoral fellow
Brigham and Women’s Hospital

The hallmarks of systemic lupus erythematosus include immune T cells and B cells that inappropriately attack one’s own cells, autoantibodies, and inflammatory substances called type 1 interferons. A group of T cells called T peripheral helper (Tph) cells is thought to misdirect immune response seen in lupus by producing an inflammatory substance CXCL13 that attaches to a molecule CXCR5 on the surface of B cells which may lead to the generation of autoantibodies that attack and damage organs in patients with lupus.

Dr. Vanessa Wacleche will use innovative technologies to study how Tph cells control the production of CXCL13. Dr. Wacleche will also study if interferon-alpha, which is the main type 1 interferon causing inflammation in lupus, is responsible for Tph cells maturation and expansion as well as production of CXCL13 by these cells.

What this study means for people with lupus
The findings will generate new strategies to control CXCL13 production by Tph cells that could eventually lead to the development of novel treatments for lupus patients.

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