An Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist has received a $110,000 grant from the Lupus Foundation of America to study the role of a specific protein in the disease.
“Adult stem cell research holds great promise for lupus,” said Leslie Hanrahan, Vice President of Education and Research at the Lupus Foundation of America. “Dr. Webb’s work will no doubt provide valuable knowledge that will allow us to better understand the future of this area for people living with lupus.”
For 20 years, researcher Carol Webb, Ph.D., has studied ARID3a, a protein important in the production and development of adult stem cells—but her work had never led to lupus research until recently.
“You can’t force science to go one way or the other,” said Webb. “When you make a discovery, you have to follow where it leads.”
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system confuses healthy cells with foreign substances, like viruses and bacteria, and attacks the body’s tissues and organs. The illness affects an estimated 2 million Americans, roughly 90 percent of whom are women.
When scientists at OMRF discovered a correlation between autoimmunity and the Epstein-Barr Virus, it piqued her interest. Webb knew the virus could induce the creation of the ARID3a protein in some cells and had seen that mice whose cells created too much of the protein made the same kinds of antibodies sometimes observed in lupus patients.
“We were excited to find that nearly half of the cross-section of patients we examined also over-expressed this protein compared to healthy individuals,” she said. “We don’t yet know if they create too much of the protein because of the inflammatory responses that occur in lupus or if the over-abundance the protein somehow leads to the disease.”
Webb said her goal is to determine if the cells that create more of the protein are more likely to lead to auto-antibody-producing cells than the cells that express normal levels of this protein. That information could be useful in certain procedures in which doctors transplant adult stem cells to help patients create new immune cells.
“That procedure isn’t always successful in patients with lupus,” she said. “If we could identify which cells are over-expressing the protein, we might be able to choose the best cells possible to increase the odds of success.”
Collaboration between scientists and departments is crucial to new discoveries, said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D.
“Though Dr. Webb had not done previous lupus research, she talks to lupus researchers and that leads to new ideas,” he said. “This is exactly why we emphasize communication and collaboration among departments.”