Lupus and Autoimmunity Research Program

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a seriously debilitating disease affecting more than a million Americans, mostly women in their 20s and 30s. To improve patients' quality of life, division researchers have undertaken several groundbreaking investigations, including:

  • the development of a blood test that will give patients and their physicians advance notice of chronic disease flare-ups.
  • an NIH-funded multicenter trial of a corticosteroid treatment that was shown to be successful in preventing serious lupus flares. The Hospital for Joint Diseases was the lead site of the trial and recruited 154 lupus patients, who were followed over a period of five years.
  • an NIH-funded study designed to determine whether women with lupus have a greater rate of flare-ups if they are also taking exogenous hormones for postmenopausal hormone replacement or as oral contraceptives. The 17-site study involved 500 patients and was co-directed by the Hospital for Joint Diseases and Johns Hopkins University. The data so far on hormone replacement have been extremely exciting in that they show no statistical difference in the number of severe flares whether the patients were taking hormone replacement or placebo. These findings will have a significant impact on the treatment of postmenopausal women with SLE.
  • an investigation of the reasons some children born to lupus patients develop a cardiac electrical signaling defect known as heart block. The division's translational research group discovered that women with lupus produce terrain antibodies, which are suspected to cause heart block. Researchers in the fields of embryology, immunology, dermatology, and cardiology have been enlisted to help find a way to bring this potentially life-threatening irregularity under control.