Two Lupus Research Institute Scientists Deliver Breakthrough Research

The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) today announced findings of two studies demonstrating the power of its focus on innovation to drive discovery in lupus by backing potentially groundbreaking ideas that are typically too early or too novel for mainstream support.

New York, NY, August 17, 2011 --( Studies Advance Potential Treatment for Neuropsychiatric Lupus and Understanding Lupus Prevalence in African Americans

The Lupus Research Institute (LRI) today announced findings of two studies demonstrating the power of its focus on innovation to drive discovery in lupus by backing potentially groundbreaking ideas that are typically too early or too novel for mainstream support.

Dr. Betty Diamond at the Feinstein Institute of Medical Research in New York recently reported results of a study with a new candidate drug for neuropsychiatric lupus, an advance made possible by her earlier LRI-funded discoveries on how the lupus immune system attacks the brain.

Also with grant backing from the LRI, Dr. Timothy Niewold at University of Chicago Medical Center recently discovered gene variants that might allow for tailored treatment of African Americans with lupus. Like Diamond, Niewold has won substantial follow-on funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build on LRI-supported studies.

“These two discoveries exemplify what can happen when scientists are challenged to propose only truly original ideas that offer the potential for new research directions,” said Margaret Dowd, LRI President. “Funding novel ideas is a high-stakes gamble, but as our researchers’ unprecedented 80% success rate demonstrates, LRI is exceptionally good at picking winners. The pay-off for funding early research takes years, but can be utterly transformational.”

The LRI was founded 10 years ago specifically to venture where no one else is willing to go, to fund the earliest fundamental research upon which the discovery of future treatments depends. The Institute’s documented discoveries are among the most pivotal in lupus and have laid the groundwork for further innovation.

“Keep funding the edgy stuff because no one else is,” praises Jane E. Salmon, MD, Professor of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College.

Novel Drug Candidate May Block Lupus Attack on the Brain
Having brought forth truly novel research proposals, Drs. Diamond and Niewold typify the kind of thinkers the Institute is committed to support. Dr. Diamond, together with Dr. Yousef Al-Abed and other colleagues at Feinstein, recently published a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences describing how a new molecule they developed can protect mouse brains from lupus autoimmune attack. Dr. Diamond came to LRI determined to find out why four out of five people with lupus have some type of neuropsychiatric difficulty. She discovered a particular type of antibody in lupus patients that can kill nerve cells in the brain. The molecule her team went on to discover may counteract this specific type of nerve-damaging lupus autoantibody.

Currently, there are no targeted therapies for neuropsychiatric lupus, which can cause brain damage affecting memory, the ability to think clearly, and distinguishing reality from delusion. The Feinstein team is testing the molecule to see if it is safe for clinical trials with patients.

“The LRI is the first organization to fund studies of this model of neuropsychiatric lupus,” said Dr. Diamond. “With the Institute’s grant, which led to subsequent funding from the NIH, we provided the first molecular explanation of how the central nervous system is attacked in lupus. We are even more excited to have developed a molecule that can block that attack.”

Why Does Lupus Discriminate Against African Americans?
Finding which genes predispose African Americans to lupus was the focus of Dr. Niewold’s proposal to LRI in 2009. Confirming his original hypothesis, his team recently published results in Arthritis and Rheumatism, which together with findings published last year, show that African-American patients carry gene variants that cause them to produce higher levels of a critical molecule, interferon-alpha, known to drive lupus progression. On the basis of the LRI-funded work, Dr. Niewold was awarded a $1.95 million RO1 grant from the NIH for a large-scale study on how inherited genetic abnormalities in the interferon-alpha pathway might contribute to lupus in African Americans and other populations. The ultimate goal is to use this knowledge to personalize treatment for patients.

Dr. Niewold focused on lupus genetics in African-Americans because of the disproportionate prevalence of lupus among this population; African American women are three times more likely than Caucasian women to develop lupus and experience severe symptoms.

“The LRI funding allowed us not only to pursue this new direction in my own lab but also to foster synergies among scientists worldwide that will help accelerate discovery,” Dr. Niewold said.

About Lupus
Lupus is a chronic, complex and prevalent autoimmune disease affects more than 1.5-million Americans. More than 90% of lupus sufferers are women, mostly young women between the ages of 15 to 44. Women of color are especially at risk. In lupus, the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, creates antibodies that attack the body’s own tissues and organs -- the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints. Lupus is difficult to diagnose, difficult to treat, and is a leading cause of premature cardiovascular disease, kidney disease and stroke among young women. While there is no known cause or cure, the progress of recent discoveries is highly promising.

About the Lupus Research Institute
The world’s leading private supporter of innovative research in lupus, the Lupus Research Institute pioneers discovery and champions scientific creativity in the hunt for solutions to this complex and dangerous autoimmune disease. Founded by families and shaped by leading scientists, the LRI mandates sound science and rigorous peer review to uncover and support only the highest ranked novel research to prevent, treat and cure lupus. For more information, visit

With its National Coalition of state and local lupus organizations, the LRI is dedicated to finding new and safer options for treating the disease by improving the design of clinical studies and promoting broad participation in clinical trials.

Lupus Research Institute
Kristen Teesdale