Live Long and Prosper
James, who now holds the Lou C. Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF, has pioneered the study of how molecules called autoantibodies can predict whether a healthy person will one day develop an autoimmune disease, a broad category of disorders that encompasses conditions such as lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and type I diabetes. A simple blood test can detect the presence (or absence) of autoantibodies.
In a groundbreaking study published in The New England Journal of Medicine, James and fellow OMRF researchers Drs. John Harley and Hal Scofield showed that in patients who ultimately developed lupus, certain autoantibodies appeared in their blood years before they developed symptoms. That work, which was the product of almost two decades of research, represented a crucial milestone in the emerging field of predicting disease.
Using autoantibodies as a sort of diagnostic crystal ball, doctors may soon be able to tell seemingly healthy people that they will develop lupus or other autoimmune diseases. Yet this work holds the potential to do more than see the future. “With this kind of information,” says James, “we also could begin fighting disease before symptoms ever appear.”
It’s a mind-boggling concept, the idea of treating a disease before it’s done any harm. Perhaps those treatments could delay disease onset. Perhaps they also could lessen the brunt of the illness when it eventually reared its head. Or maybe, just maybe, therapy could prevent that disease altogether.
Trekkie at heart Dr. Judith James