DALLAS, Feb. 28 /PRNewswire/ -- Baylor Research Institute (BRI) was recently awarded two new grants to study systemic lupus erythematosus, commonly known as lupus or SLE. The new funding from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and Alliance for Lupus Research, which totals more than $2.9 million, will allow BRI scientists to expand their research of the disease. Affecting more than one million people in the U.S., lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person's body is attacked by his/her own immune system, which leads to damage of healthy tissues and cells. It occurs predominantly in women (who make up around 90% of lupus patients) with a higher incidence in women of Hispanic, African, Asian and Native American descent. Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, a component of BRI, has made significant advancements in the understanding of lupus. "A major finding was determining that increased levels of a regulatory immune system protein, interferon alpha, play a central role in lupus. An overabundance of interferon alpha is responsible for many of the changes in gene expression levels that correlate with lupus symptoms," said Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., Director of Baylor Institute for Immunology Research. "A collaboration between BRI and Argos Therapeutics led to the development of antibodies against interferon alpha. Reducing the serum level of interferon alpha with an antibody could provide a successful treatment strategy for lupus patients." Dr. Banchereau received a $1.9 million grant from the NIAID, a component of the National Institutes of Health, to study groups of immune system cells, called T cells, to see how they differ in lupus patients and healthy individuals. Dr. Banchereau's group also will determine how these T cell populations fluctuate between times when lupus patients experience remissions and when they suffer from flares (times of intense symptoms). These findings may allow certain types of T cells to be used as early predictors for disease activity. It could also lead to new treatment options that target these T cells. Virginia Pascual, M.D., an investigator at Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, is supported by a $1 million research award from the Alliance for Lupus Research (ALR; http://www.lupusresearch.org ). The ALR is a national voluntary health organization whose mission is to support medical research into the cause, cure, treatment and prevention of SLE and its complications. Dr. Pascual's new funding follows a previous ALR award, which allowed her group to develop a new test to monitor disease severity that is based on various markers of lupus activity. The goal of Dr. Pascual's project, a multi-center effort that teams lupus clinicians from around the country as well as Canada and Puerto Rico, is to validate the disease 'signatures' that they have identified in the blood of lupus patients. These signatures represent altered gene expression patterns that differentiate lupus patients from healthy individuals. Dr. Pascual's group has shown that these signatures can be used to predict disease flares and the development of serious complications. They also plan to develop a simple, inexpensive test that can be used to assess disease severity in lupus patients. This information could help doctors decide when to treat patients more aggressively to avoid such complications. Dallas-based Baylor Institute for Immunology Research is the immunology research component of BRI, an affiliate of Baylor Health Care System. Opened in 1996, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research brings laboratory scientists and clinicians together in an effort to increase understanding of how the immune system works. The institute is devoted to translating basic laboratory discoveries made about the immune system into effective treatments for patients. This interdisciplinary program focuses on developing new therapies to treat conditions that involve the immune system, such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, infectious diseases and organ transplants. For more information about BRI and Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, visit http://www.baylorhealth.com and http://www.baylorhealth.edu . SYMPTOMS OF LUPUS: Symptoms of lupus can include a facial rash on the nose and cheeks, sensitivity to sunlight, swollen joints, inflammation around the heart and lungs, kidney damage, anemia, seizures and a weakened immune system. The severity of the symptoms often fluctuates between periods of less intense activity and times when they are much worse. These flares are unpredictable and there are no current laboratory tests to predict them.
SOURCE Baylor Research Institute