Scientists at OMRF have identified a set of genes that predispose people of Korean ancestry to lupus.
The findings resulted from a large-scale study of Koreans conducted by OMRF researchers Christopher Lessard, Ph.D., and Kathy Sivils, Ph.D. The two led a coalition of researchers in a global effort, which looked at genetic samples from nearly 8,000 Koreans. The findings appeared in the scientific journal Arthritis and Rheumatology.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disorder where the body’s immune system fails to distinguish healthy cells from foreign cells, such as viruses or bacteria, and begins attacking the body’s own tissues and organs. The disease is two to three times more likely to occur in Asians, African-Americans, Native Americans and Hispanics than it is in Caucasians, according to the Lupus Foundation of America.
To better understand the disease, researchers must identify genes that predispose a person to lupus. This particular project was spearheaded by the International Consortium on the Genetics of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLEGEN), a coalition formed in 2004 to pool resources and knowledge from lupus experts around the globe in a concerted effort to make progress.
“Genetic studies like this take a global effort because we need to study thousands of patients,” said Sivils. “No one center can do that alone.”
The project was designed to perform a genome-wide association study in Koreans to see if scientists could find unique effects in their genetic makeup. “There is evidence to suggest that there are race-specific risk factors that we want to identify,” said Lessard. “As our sample sizes go up, our ability to find genes associated with disease improve.”
Through this research, scientists were able to discover a novel set of genes important in altering genes involved in the immune system in Korean lupus patients.
“The current therapies for lupus are not very specific. The goal is to define all the heritable factors that would predispose someone to getting the disease, and that is the overall mission of these SLEGEN studies,” said Lessard. “Think about it in terms of collateral damage. By discovering the exact genes involved and understanding potential race-specific triggers, we can eventually get to the point where we are tailoring therapeutic strategies around the exact reasons why you have lupus instead of blindly trying drugs without consideration of the underlying risk factors. It’s the difference between a precision-guided missile and carpet bombing.”
This study is particularly important for those of Asian ancestry, because the genetics of lupus in those populations is not well defined, said Sivils.
“These findings provide important new information about lupus. Many of the genes we found in Koreans are the same as in other populations. That is good because if a treatment is developed that works for those genes based on studies in other populations, we know it will be important in Asians, as well.”
OMRF scientists Patrick Gaffney, M.D., John Ice, M.D., Jennifer Kelly, M.S., and Astrid Rasmussen, M.D., Ph.D., also contributed to the research.
Funding for this project was provided by grant No. P01 AI083194 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.