OMRF has received a pair of grants totaling almost $600,000 from the Lupus Research Alliance to study lupus in different ethnic groups.
OMRF scientists Joel Guthridge, Ph.D., and Patrick Gaffney, M.D., each received independent 2-year grants from the LRA, which partnered with pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb for the joint funding initiative. The program aims to improve treatments for lupus and to discover advancements that will lead to a cure.
Lupus occurs when the immune system becomes unbalanced and can affect the skin, kidneys, lungs, joints and cardiovascular system. The disease primarily strikes women and disproportionately affects African Americans, American Indians and Latinos.
Guthridge’s project focuses on developing a data analysis strategy to predict which patients will respond best to particular therapies, as well as identifying how lupus impacts diverse populations differently. Because the disease presents in varying ways across patient populations, choosing effective treatment strategies poses a significant challenge.
“We will integrate patient data we’ve already collected with a new evaluation method, comparing patient groups who are responsive—or not—to treatment,” said Guthridge, a scientist in OMRF’s Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Research Program. Using a repository of medical information and biological samples, he’ll work with OMRF colleague Joan Merrill, M.D., to predict individual lupus patients’ responses to immune-modifying therapies.
“Dr. Guthridge’s work has the potential to set the stage for a more personalized, and thus more effective, approach to treating lupus patients,” said LRA Chief Scientific Officer Teodara Staeva, Ph.D.
Gaffney, who holds the J.G. Puterbaugh Chair in Medical Research at OMRF, is looking into gene regulation and how it affects race-dependent features of lupus.
“We’ve conducted a similar study with samples collected from European American lupus patients and healthy controls,” said Gaffney. “This award will allow us to focus on African American patients and controls, and we can then compare these data to identify differences that contribute to the striking racial disparities of lupus.”
Staeva said understanding these differences on a genetic level is key to understanding the racial disparities in the disease.
“Given the profound burden of disease faced by Black, Hispanic and Asian people living with lupus, Dr. Gaffney’s work will have a profound impact on our understanding of treating the most vulnerable populations with lupus,” she said.
The National Institutes of Health has designated OMRF as one of only 10 Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence nationwide for its research on lupus and other autoimmune illnesses. The LRA is the world’s leading private funder of lupus research.