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Spotlight on Clinical Research: May is Lupus Awareness Month

April 30, 2015

Lupus is a lifelong chronic disease in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells and tissue. This can cause damage to skin, joints, kidneys and other organs throughout the body. Anyone can get lupus, but it most often affects women and is also more common in women of African American, Hispanic and Asian descent.

Over the last decade or so, research has led to progress in treating and understanding lupus. Although its cause is not known, genetic studies have helped identify genes that make people susceptible to the disease. New medications and therapies have been developed that help alleviate the many symptoms that people with lupus experience. “A lot of progress has been made, but there’s still a lot of work to be done,” said Dr. Martin Kriegel, a Yale specialist who treats lupus and other autoimmune diseases.

Dr. Kriegel is conducting research based on a new concept of the causes of lupus and other autoimmune diseases. Earlier research has shown that certain antibodies can be detected in the blood many years before the symptoms of lupus appear. The earliest antibodies that can be detected before someone develops lupus target a molecule known as Ro60. This molecule is a self-antigen, which means that it doesn’t provoke an immune response in healthy people, but does trigger a response in people with lupus.

Five percent of all bacteria contain proteins with a structure that is similar to Ro60. Several of these are commonly found in the intestine, mouth and skin. Normally they are harmless, but in people with lupus, these bacteria may trigger the autoimmune response that causes the disease.

The study being conducted by Dr. Kriegel involves taking fecal, skin, and mouth swabs to analyze bacteria in individuals with lupus, as well as control patients and healthy volunteers, so that the three groups can be compared. Participants are required to provide blood and swabs three times over the course of the study and are compensated for their time. Dr. Kriegel hopes to show that there is a genetic predisposition to respond to bacteria with Ro60-like proteins that initiates the disease in people with lupus. “We believe that if we could target or eradicate these bacteria that we hope to identify, perhaps we can relieve the immune response,” he said.

The results of this study may lead to new treatment avenues for lupus and could also revolutionize our understanding of how lupus and other autoimmune diseases occur. To find out if you are eligible to participate in this study or to learn more, contact Irene Matos at 203-737-2736, or Kristin DeFrancesco at 203-785-3852,

Submitted by Lisa Brophy on April 30, 2015