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We're a little crazy, about science!

A new Medicine may help Lupus Sufferers

Lupus, it's more common than you might think.

It’s never Lupus, until it is…  that’s because it’s more common than you might think.

Lupus, a particularly bad hell on earth for people suffering from it. Lupus is caused by autoimmunity, in where the body attacks itself. I have a special place in my heart for people suffering from the disease because my Uncle suffered from it. There is no cure and only moderately effective treatments for the disorder, which causes, in some cases, the most excruciating pain you will ever feel. Thankfully new findings by a biomedical engineering team raise hope for a new class of drugs to treat lupus that may not include the long list of adverse risks and side effects often associated with current treatments.

As I said before, lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus, is a progressive, degenerative disease in which the immune system turns against itself, attacking a person’s healthy tissue, cells and organs. Symptoms range from debilitating pain and fatigue to organ failure and a host of other impairments. An estimated 1.5 million Americans, and at least five million people worldwide, have a form of lupus.

Though there is no cure, but researchers are actively working toward finding new treatments and, ultimately, a cure. The  group’s latest work could lead to new, more natural therapeutics for lupus that use a plant-derived chemical, helping to (ideally) reduce the risk of side effects.

With only one drug specifically approved for the treatment of lupus in the past 50 years, lupus patients are commonly treated with steroids, a class of immunosuppressive drugs that delay the development and progression of the disease by suppressing the immune system. By suppressing the immune system in its entirety, however, this mode of treatment carries with it an increased risk of infections and other very harmful side effects.

In this latest research, the team present new findings that detail the use of a synthetic, plant-derived compound – abbreviated CDDO – that was shown to effectively suppress the multiple steps of lupus development in murine models, including the onset of kidney disease.

One of the most common organs to be attacked by lupus is the kidney, manifesting in lupus nephritis. While this condition doesn’t affect all lupus sufferers, an estimated 40 percent of lupus patients develop it. Lupus nephritis, which causes inflammation of the kidneys and impairs their ability to effectively rid the body of waste products and other toxins, is the leading cause of lupus-related deaths and results in tens of thousands of hospitalizations per year.

“The development of lupus is a two-step reaction. First, the immune system develops antibodies that attack the body’s own DNA, then that activated immune system attacks the kidneys,” Mohan said. “We found that CDDO may block both of these steps.”

There is much left to be discovered about CDDO, including how it works in suppressing the progression of lupus. The next step for this research is to confirm whether the CDDO compound suppresses the immune system across the board, or whether it simply suppresses the activation of the specific signaling pathways that lead to the development of lupus.

To find this out, researchers will test it in the lab to see if they can mount the proper immune response. If not, the compound likely could be suppressing the entire immune system, which is the current problem with using steroids to treat lupus. Even if the compound is shown to be generally immunosuppressive, however, it still may be a better treatment option than steroids for some patients.

“The most exciting part of this research is that CDDO is originally plant-derived, so it’s relatively natural and carries less chance of side effects,” Mohan said. “That’s a very important point, because many of the current therapeutic agents being used for lupus have significant side effects. As far as we have tested in these experiments, we found that the CDDO compound had no known side effects. Additionally, compared to many other test compounds we’ve previously tried for treating lupus, this one appears to be much more effective.”

While it will take time to validate this before the compound can move from testing in the lab to clinical trials in humans, the team is encouraged by the prospect of treating lupus patients with more natural compounds that typically carry fewer unwanted side effects. If you or someone you know have lupus, this might be some of the best news you’ve heard about the disease in a while. I know how you feel and while it may be too late for my Uncle, who has passed on already, it would be nice to know that no one else would have to suffer from the same illness.

Sources
Wu T, Ye Y, Min SY, Zhu J, Khobahy E, Zhou J, Yan M, Hemachandran S, Pathak S, Zhou XJ, Andreeff M, & Mohan C (2014). Targeting multiple signaling axes and oxidative stress using a synthetic triterpenoid prevents murine lupus nephritis. Arthritis & rheumatology (Hoboken, N.J.) PMID: 25047252

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