Americans have been diagnosed with lupus, a disease where the body’s immune system has been known to attack healthy tissue. It has also been known to lead to heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure.
In the past 50 years, only one new drug for lupus has been approved by the FDA. Just this summer, there have been two very major trials of a new lupus drug that both failed, but now hope can be seen on the horizon.
Mary Valdez has slowly become used to what has become her new normal, life with lupus.
“I totally have to reinvent myself because now I can’t do a lot of things that I used to do,” Valdez told Ivanhoe.
But now, new findings have been looking promising for treating, and perhaps even curing, the autoimmune disease. It’s the discovery of how an immune cell called a T-Reg works. Researchers have found that it’s controlled by one specific molecule known as B7H1.
“I noticed that that molecule had been detected in women with lupus flares,” said Dr. Tyler Curiel, Oncologist and Immunologist at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.
T- Regs should keep the immune system from going into overdrive, which has been what happens with autoimmune disorders like lupus. But if the B7H1 molecule hasn’t been working right, a woman’s estrogen will “turn off” the T-Reg.
“In some women, it may be that they don’t make enough of it, and other women, it looks like they make it, it’s there, but it has mutations in it so it doesn’t work properly,” Dr. Curiel explained.
Currently, medication for lupus has included immune-suppressing drugs. Dr. Curiel’s work with the B7H1 molecule would mean very targeted treatment.
“On the drawing board, it looks like you can do that… let’s see,” he said.
While men can develop lupus, it has been known as a disorder that is mostly in women. Researchers at the UT Health Science Center said within the next 18 months, they should be able to start designing specific ways to treat patients.
BACKGROUND: Lupus is a common, chronic, autoimmune disease, affecting as many as five million people throughout the world and at least 1.5 million Americans, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. The disease causes damage to various parts of the body, including the skin, joints and organs. Lupus can cause episodes, commonly known as flares, where the patient’s symptoms are worse at some points but then improve or disappear completely for a period of time. Symptoms of the disease can resemble those of other diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and Lyme disease. Women of childbearing age are most commonly diagnosed with lupus, especially women of color, but the disease can occur in people of any race, age or gender. (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3)
TREATMENTS: Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for lupus but treatments are prescribed to treat and prevent symptoms. Lupus symptoms and severity differs in each person, so medications are prescribed according to the patient’s specific needs. Mild cases of lupus may require only over-the-counter medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, that can include Advil or Motrin. For more severe cases, doctors will prescribe stronger drugs to relax the immune system and protect the organs from further damage, called immunosuppressants. Immunosuppressants including Trexall, Azasan and CellCept have been shown to help reduce symptoms but these drugs have severe side effects like an increased risk of infection and decreased fertility.NEW TECHNOLOGY: New research into lupus and what causes the disease is helping doctors develop new drugs to potentially cure the disease. Tyler Curiel, MD, Oncologist and Immunologist at the Cancer Therapy and Research Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center, and his research team have found, through mouse models, that there is a difference between men and women in the way their bodies respond to autoimmune disease. The research showed that the molecule, B7H1 was being altered by the body in women experiencing a lupus flare up. After discovering this, Dr. Curiel and his team hypothesized that since the molecule controls a cell called a T-reg, that cell may be the key in developing new drugs or treatment to cure lupus altogether. Dr. Curiel says they are only about a year and a half away from performing clinical trials and that is due to their ability to use repurposed preapproved drugs.