Raising awareness of Lupus

16 October 2019
A scientist looking at a test tube which has purple liquid in it.

October is Lupus Awareness Month. Lupus is an autoimmune condition, for which there is currently no cure. Finding a cure and effective treatments for lupus is a priority – that’s why we’re committed to funding research that will make life better for the thousands of people living with lupus.

Normally the body’s immune system produces antibodies that fight infections. However, for people living with lupus, their immune system attacks the healthy tissues in their body and causes inflammation. This often results in joint pain, skin rashes and extreme tiredness, however in some cases lupus can also affect other organs such as the kidney or heart, resulting in more serious complications.

Although there’s no cure for lupus, it can be normally be managed with a range of drug treatments depending upon symptoms, however success varies between patients and side effects can be severe.

Drug treatments such as rituximab have been trialled, and act by depleting B-cells (which produce antibodies) to reduce inflammation and improve symptoms. In some cases, rituximab is effective, but it can also trigger flare ups which require further treatment.

To help improve the effectiveness of these treatments, we are currently supporting a range of research projects focused on lupus including fundamental research such as understanding why inflammation happens in lupus and clinical trials to improve the treatment of lupus.

Our research projects

The BEAT Lupus trial

We are currently funding the BEAT Lupus clinical trial with support from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure. This trial is testing a drug called belimumab to determine if it can treat flare ups that can often be triggered by rituximab treatment.

By working together, we can do more for people with lupus and doing so gives us better chances of finding new ways of treating the condition.

Starting in 2016, the BEAT Lupus trial will do follow up with those recruited to the study and assess the results in the coming 12 months. If it proves effective, belimumab could be used in combination with rituximab, therefore providing a new treatment option for people living with lupus.

To find out more information about this study, visit the BEAT lupus website or watch this short video created by the NIHR, which explains the impact of lupus on patients, the aims of the BEAT Lupus trial, and covers the experience of a patient on a clinical trial.

Working together to BEAT lupus

Why does lupus cause fatigue?

Extreme tiredness is one of the most common symptoms of lupus. To understand why this is the case, we are funding research to understand the connections between lack of iron and fatigue.

Iron is a mineral vital for healthy red blood cells and is also involved in the process by which our cells make energy. Previous research has suggested inflammation can reduce availability of iron, so this research project at University College London is studying whether people with lupus have a lack of iron in the blood and studying the ability of cells to produce energy to understand if abnormal iron metabolism is associated to fatigue symptoms.

Understanding the link between lupus and vascular disease

Lupus may also cause changes to the inner lining of blood vessels, increasing risk of developing blood clots and vascular disease.

Research funded by Versus Arthritis is looking to understand how antibodies present in the blood of people with lupus can damage the vessel lining. A better understanding of how these antibodies act may lead to a new target for treatment of lupus-related vascular disease.

Lupus in young people

Lupus does not only affect adults; young people can develop juvenile lupus. A PhD project we are funding at University College London is studying the way immune cell behaviour changes during puberty, to look for links between inflammation and the onset of juvenile lupus.

Researchers at the Centre for Adolescent Rheumatology Versus Arthritis are working with young people to better understand how lupus, arthritis and other inflammatory conditions develop in children and teenagers. The centre aims to develop better treatments, improve clinical care and help young people to self-manage their condition.

COVID-19 is having an impact our research and our researchers, which may result in studies being extended.  We are working closely with our researchers to support them and to ensure that wherever possible research studies can continue. Read our COVID-19 research update.

Learn more about our current research and sign up to our newsletter for updates on our latest research and services.