Lab Breakthrough Raises Hope for Halting Lupus

Novel treatment using patients' own cells may slow or stop lupus and other autoimmune diseases

A milestone in immunology research was achieved recently in a UCSF Division of Rheumatology laboratory, when scientists demonstrated that a specific kind of T-cell can be extracted from mice and, after being multiplied and purified, transferred back into the mice as a very powerful agent that suppresses lupus.

Because the mouse immune system is an excellent model for the human immune system, this research, which is supported by the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis, has raised high expectations that a similar process may prove to be effective in humans.

"I am very hopeful that this technology is something that will work in humans with lupus and perhaps other autoimmune diseases," says Dr. Kenneth Scalapino, lead investigator in this work. "There are a number of technical challenges to address before bringing this into the clinic, but I do think this will have a role in patient care."

"We're one of the first labs to use this technology to suppress systemic lupus, and this is significant because the disease affects many different organ systems," says Dr. Scalapino. This was accomplished by taking regulatory T-cells from mice that spontaneously develop lupus, expanding the cells in special culture conditions, and transferring them back into the mice. The expansion process significantly enhances the cells' ability to suppress disease.

"We know that when a human's or an animal's regulatory T-cells are damaged or absent, a diffuse autoimmune process develops, with characteristics similar to lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes," says Dr. Scalapino, who last year was awarded the coveted Department of Veterans Affairs Career Development Award, which also provides funding for this research. "This raises the possibility that a defect in regulatory T-cell function contributes to some autoimmune diseases we see in humans."

Working in the lab of Dr. David Daikh, in collaboration with Drs. Jeff Bluestone and Qizhi Tang, who are world leaders in this field, Dr. Scalapino is currently attempting to duplicate the mouse work in humans with lupus. The first step has been accomplished. "A population of regulatory T-cells can be isolated out of the human," Dr. Scalapino comments. "Now we're moving to see if we can expand these cells from lupus patients into a large number of cells and enhance their function." If this work is successful, clinical trials testing the new approach in patients with lupus could be launched in as soon as two to three years.

(Published June 2007 in Arthritis Progress Report, the newsletter of the Rosalind Russell Medical Research Center for Arthritis. To be added to our mailing list, please send us a note with your name and address to Your information will not be shared with any other organizations.)

"I am very hopeful that this technology will work in humans with lupus and perhaps other autoimmune diseases."

--Dr. Scalapino

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