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Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Promising Areas of Research

  • Identifying lupus susceptibility genes
  • Searching for environmental agents that cause lupus
  • Developing drugs or biologic agents to treat lupus

Researchers are focusing on finding better treatments for lupus. A primary goal of this research is to develop treatments that can effectively minimize the use of corticosteroids. Scientists are trying to identify combination therapies that may be more effective than single treatment approaches. Another goal is to improve the treatment and management of lupus in the kidneys and central nervous system. For example, a 20- year study supported by the NIAMS and the NIH found that combining cyclophosphamide with prednisone helped delay or prevent kidney failure, a serious complication of lupus.

Scientists are using novel "biologic agents" to selectively block parts of the immune system.

On the basis of new information about the disease process, scientists are using novel "biologic agents" to selectively block parts of the immune system. Development and testing of these new drugs, which are based on compounds that occur naturally in the body, comprise an exciting and promising new area of lupus research. The hope is that these treatments not only will be effective, but also will have fewer side effects. Preliminary research suggests that white blood cells known as B cells may play a key role in the development of lupus. Biologics that interfere with B cell function or block the interactions of immune cells are active areas of research. These targeted treatments hold promise because they have the advantage of reduced side effects and adverse reactions compared with conventional therapies. Clinical trials are testing the safety and effectiveness of rituximab (also called anti-CD20) in treating people with lupus. Rituximab is a genetically engineered antibody that blocks the production of B cells. Other treatment options currently being explored include reconstructing the immune system by bone marrow transplantation. In the future, gene therapy also may play an important role in lupus treatment.

Hope for the Future

With research advances and a better understanding of lupus, the prognosis for people with lupus today is far brighter than it was even 20 years ago. It is possible to have lupus and remain active and involved with life, family, and work. As current research efforts unfold, there is continued hope for new treatments, improvements in quality of life, and, ultimately, a way to prevent or cure the disease. The research efforts of today may yield the answers of tomorrow, as scientists continue to unravel the mysteries of lupus.

Additional Resources

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases Information Clearinghouse
NIAMS/National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, MD 20892-3675
(301) 495-4484 or (877) 22-NIAMS (226-4267)(free of charge)
Fax: (301) 718-6366
TTY: (301) 565-2966
World Wide Web address: www.niams.nih.gov

WebMD Public Information from the U.S. National Institutes of Health

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