Effective Long-Term Lupus Treatment?

Australian researchers have worked out how to fix a defect that causes lupus, and hope their world-first discovery will offer effective long-term treatment.

Published in Nature Communications, the Monash University-led study found a way to reprogram the defective cells of lupus patients with protective molecules from healthy people.

Using human cells, the new treatment restores the protective side of the immune system that prevents autoimmunity, which is when the immune system attacks its own cells. The findings relate to the autoimmune disease lupus, a debilitating disease with no cure and limited treatments.

But researchers hope this new method, developed in test tubes and proven in pre-clinical models, can also be developed for other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.

Humans all have proteins that the immune system could attack, but this doesn’t happen in healthy people because of special cells called ‘regulatory T cells’ or ‘T-regs’ that protect from autoimmune disease. These are lacking in people who develop lupus and other autoimmune conditions.

Co-senior author Associate Professor Joshua Ooi, who heads Monash University’s Regulatory T Cell Therapies Group based at Monash Health, said the therapeutic effect was achieved by identifying specific protective molecules from healthy people and reprogramming ineffective lupus patient T-regs to restore their ability to switch off unwanted immune responses.

About one in 1000 Australians has lupus, and rates are higher in First Nations communities. Nine in 10 people with lupus are female and most develop it aged 15-45.

Study patients are managed at Monash Health, where Professor Morand is Director of Rheumatology. He said the research team was now designing clinical trials expected to start in 2026 to investigate whether this method was a long-term cure for people with lupus.

The new treatment would involve taking blood cells from the lupus patient, modifying them in the lab to restore this protective effect, then giving them back.


Peter J. Eggenhuizen, Rachel M. Y. Cheong, Cecilia Lo, Janet Chang, Boaz H. Ng, Yi Tian Ting, Julie A. Monk, Khai L. Loh, Ashraf Broury, Elean S. V. Tay, Chanjuan Shen, Yong Zhong, Steven Lim, Jia Xi Chung, Rangi Kandane-Rathnayake, Rachel Koelmeyer, Alberta Hoi, Ashutosh Chaudhry, Paolo Manzanillo, Sarah L. Snelgrove, Eric F. Morand, Joshua D. Ooi. Smith-specific regulatory T cells halt the progression of lupus nephritis. Nature Communications, 2024; 15 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-024-45056-x

Monash University. (2024, February 6). Discovery may enable an effective long-term lupus treatment. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 7, 2024 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/02/240206151411.htm

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