Emory team awarded $3 million to investigate lupus in African Americans

Woodruff Health Sciences Center | Sept. 21, 2021

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Quinn Eastman
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qeastma@emory.edu

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Ignacio Sanz, MD, is head of rheumatology at Emory University School of Medicine and director of the Lowance Center for Human Immunology and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar.

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The Lupus Research Alliance has awarded one of its largest grants to date to a multi-disciplinary team led by Ignacio Sanz, MD, head of rheumatology at Emory University School of Medicine.

Sanz is director of the Lowance Center for Human Immunology and a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar. The grant includes collaborators at Medical University of South Carolina and University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine.

The Alliance’s $3 million, three year Global Team Science Award, given for the first time this year, was made possible by a grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies. A similar award went to a team led by Virginia Pascual, MD at Weill Cornell Medicine, which will focus on genetic risk factors for lupus in children. Both were selected through a competitive process.

Lupus (systemic lupus erythematosus) is a chronic, complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. In lupus, the immune system, which is designed to protect against infection, creates antibodies that can attack any part of the body (autoantibodies), including the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints.

Sanz’s project will focus on identifying the characteristics of the B cells and plasma cells that create attacking antibodies in the development and progression of severe lupus, specifically in African American patients. People of color are two to three times at greater risk of developing lupus than whites. More than 90 percent of people with lupus are women.

"Each patient can respond differently to treatment and have a wide range of symptom severity, usually because of B cells and plasma cells: the cells behind the start of lupus," Sanz says. "This research will allow us to further understand how this diversity impacts each patient experience, allowing us to cater, design, and evaluate clinical studies and standard of care treatments with the goal of implementing safer and more effective personalized treatments."

The Lupus Research Alliance previously gave Sanz the 2019 Lupus Insight Award for related discoveries. For the current project, Sanz’s team at Emory includes Frances Eun-Hyung Lee, MD, Sung Sam Lim, MD, Arezou Khosroshahi MD, Jeremy Boss, PhD, and Christopher Scharer, PhD. Collaborators include Gary Gilkeson, MD and Bethany Brown, MD at Medical University of South Carolina, and Frances Lund, PhD, Alex Rosenberg, PhD, Winn Chatham, MD and Troy Randall, PhD at University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine.