Investigating how male sex hormones can influence the risk of developing juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus around puberty

Disease - Systemic lupus erythematosis

Lead applicant - Dr Coziana Ciurtin

Organisation - University College London

Type of grant - PhD Scholarship

Status of grant - Active

Amount of the original award - £156,596.86

Start date - 1 October 2019

Reference - 22203

What are the aims of this research?

Paediatric-onset juvenile systemic lupus erythematosus (JSLE) is a serious, rare form of lupus that mostly effects girls at the time of puberty. In this condition, B cells (a type of white blood cell) behave unusually.

Research has shown that there a distinct difference in B cells in healthy adolescent males and females and these differences can be lost if adolescents develop juvenile lupus. Previous research has also shown that androgens (a type of male sex hormone) can influence B cell behaviour and possibly protect against developing lupus.

This project aims to better understand the links between puberty, hormones and lupus. The includes investigating specific genes of JSLE patients, comparing to genes of healthy patients to better understanding of the differences. The researchers will also look into the way androgens influence the number and function of B-cells in the blood.

Why is this research important?

There is no cure for juvenile lupus, and it is more severe in children and adolescents than in adults, with very few of the treatments available having been tested in children. Better understanding of what triggers lupus at the time of puberty may lead to new treatments. Previous research has highlighted that B-cells behave differently in adolescents with lupus compared to adults, and in boys compared to girls. Despite this observed difference, the link between male hormones and lupus in adolescents has not been widely investigated.

How will findings benefit patients?

Using existing patient groups of people with JSLE both before and after puberty, this research has the potential to identify important differences in immune cells linked to puberty and gender. This may help researchers to development treatments targeted towards specific sub-groups of lupus patients. Current treatments used for JSLE come with side effects including effects on the immune system. Given the severity of JSLE, further research to identify genetic differences, potentially providing evidence for treatment targets is crucial.