Baylor Research Institute Receives $2.9 Million to Study Lupus

    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

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