4 teams find genetic links in lupus

January 21, 2008 7:50:35 AM PST
Scientists are unraveling the genetic twists to the autoimmune disease lupus, and in their search, have found some unexpected loops.

Lupus is a debilitating illness that can affect various parts of the body at the same time. It affects a million and a half Americans, most of them women. It can damage the joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, brain and blood and is marked sometimes by a characteristic butterfly-shaped rash on the face.

Doctors have long known there was a genetic component to lupus, yet no one gene is the cause. The challenge is to identify the full range of genes involved, and how they intera


The studies show that, as suspected, the immune system is going haywire in lupus. But it also points to some previously unsuspected causes of the once-mysterious disease


The studies are published this week in the journal Nature Genetics and the New England Journal of Medicine.

"The findings of these studies are significant. By identifying specific genes which may contribute to increasing an individual's risk for developing lupus, it may be possible to develop new treatments aimed at the underlying problem instead of just at the symptoms," said Sandra C. Raymond, President & CEO of the Lupus Foundation of America.

The findings may not only help scientists find better treatments for the disease -- but may help in diagnosing it in the first place, as it is easily confused with other conditions.

"We currently can treat the disease by suppressing the immune system, but we urgently need to understand in much more detail what goes wrong with the immune system so that we can design better treatments," said one doctor.

Dr. David Karp, Vice Chair of the Lupus Foundation of America Medical-Scientific Advisory Council is excited about the findings. "They confirm some of the genes we already knew that were risk factors for getting lupus, but they also identified four new genes, and ten others that are possible risk factors."

"These studies will pave the way for more research that will determine just how these genes lead to lupus, says Dr. Karp. "We need to learn whether we can use this genetic information to predict who will get lupus, or how severe it might be."