Lupus is the focus of intense research as scientists try to determine what causes the disease and how it can best be treated. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) has a major focus on lupus research in its program on the NIH campus in Bethesda, Maryland.
For example, researchers determined that treatment with immunosuppressive drugs (cyclophosphamide and prednisone) can prevent or delay kidney failure due to nephritis, one of the most serious and life-threatening complications of lupus.
Hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial medication, is also used in the treatment of lupus and other autoimmune diseases, and is associated with a reduced risk of overall tissue damage. NIAMS-supported research has shown that lupus patients treated with hydroxychloroquine were less likely to develop severe kidney disease, had lower disease activity, and used less steroid medication.
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A number of genes associated with lupus risk and severity have also been discovered. Some are linked to patient populations at high risk for lupus, including African American and Hispanic individuals.
Most recently, NIAMS has been included in the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP), a bold new venture between the NIH, 10 biopharmaceutical companies, and several non-profit organizations to transform the current model for developing new diagnostics and treatments by jointly identifying and validating promising biological targets of disease. The ultimate goal is to increase the number of new diagnostics and therapies for patients and reduce the time and cost of developing them.
AMP will begin with three - to - five-year pilot projects in three disease areas, including autoimmune disorders of rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus). For each pilot, scientists from NIH and industry have developed research plans aimed at characterizing effective molecular indicators of disease called biomarkers and distinguishing biological targets most likely to respond to new therapies.