The National Institutes of Health has awarded the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation a new grant to better understand lupus.
OMRF scientist Swapan Nath, Ph.D., studies genetic variants, or mutations, thought to play a role in lupus, a disease in which the immune system becomes unbalanced and attacks the body’s own tissues. Lupus can result in damage to the joints, skin, kidneys, heart and lungs.
The disease affects an estimated 1.5 million Americans, primarily striking women and disproportionately affecting African Americans, American Indians, Latinos and Asians. It is notoriously difficult to diagnose and treat because of how widely it varies from person to person. Nath aims to understand and change that.
“Lupus has a strong genetic basis, but to better treat it, we have to identify the variants that drive the disease,” said Nath, who holds the William H. and Rita Bell Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “Genetic variants correlate with neighboring variants. If you see one variant is associated with lupus, and another is on the same strand of DNA, the latter may also be associated with lupus. But which is a driver of lupus, and which plays no role at all?”
With a new two-year, $480,000 grant from the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Nath plans to get closer to those answers.
Using earlier research involving thousands of DNA samples, Nath’s lab will now target 100 regions of DNA implicated in lupus. He wants to determine the statistical probability that variants in each area will lead to developing the disease. He’ll then go deeper, aiming to identify the exact locations of the variants that alter a gene’s function and how they do so.
“This will significantly advance our knowledge of lupus genetics and offer direction for future in-depth study of the biology of lupus,” Nath said.
The end goal is to create a drug that targets specific mutations in a person’s genetic makeup and prevents lupus before it develops.
“We’re not there yet,” said Nath, “but this will put us one step closer.”
Nath’s grant is R21 AI168943-01.