Baylor Research Institute receives $6.2 million grant to establish Center for Lupus Research

November 20, 2006

(DALLAS, Nov. 18, 2006) -- Baylor Research Institute has received a $6.2 million grant that will allow its immunology division, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research (BIIR), to establish a Center for Lupus Research. The grant comes from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, one of the National Institutes of Health.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means that a person's immune system attacks their own body. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, approximately 1.5 million American's have a form of lupus and while lupus can strike men and women of all ages, 90 percent of lupus patients are women.

"This was an extremely competitive grant and we are fortunate that our proposal for a Center for Lupus Research was selected. The goals of the Center for Lupus Research include the characterization of several cell types isolated from the blood of lupus patients," explains Virginia Pascual, M.D., director of the Center for Lupus Research.

"We will identify how lupus alters cells of the immune system, which leads to abnormal levels of numerous regulatory proteins. This information will allow us to discover immune system markers of disease activity and to measure responses to therapies that we are developing. We expect to have a clear picture of how a lupus patient's immune system is 'reprogrammed' to attack the patient's own body," adds Dr. Pascual.

The Center for Lupus Research at BIIR is one of only four programs that were funded by this award mechanism. The other three, which focus on different diseases, are located at the University of Rochester, Yale University and the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

Jacques Banchereau, Ph.D., director of BIIR and associate director of the Center for Lupus Research, describes the award as "a perfect fit in our strategy to build a world-class autoimmunity center."

"Dr. Pascual also has a program on juvenile arthritis that has led to a successful treatment of children who did not respond to other therapies. We identified an immune system protein, interleukin 1, which is over-produced in these children and found a drug that was already on the market to block the effects of this protein," says Dr. Banchereau.

"Using the same technology, we have found that a different immune system protein, type I interferon, is over-produced in lupus patients and this funding will allow us to continue to characterize the role that type I interferon plays in lupus disease progression," explains Dr. Banchereau. We are currently in collaboration with a biotech company to develop a blocker for type I interferon. The goal is to control the symptom flares that are common to lupus patients by shutting off the signal that causes them.

Recently Dr. Pascual was selected as the recipient of the Kirkland Scholar Award in recognition of her work in the field of lupus. This award is given to nationally-recognized scientists who study lupus. The Kirkland Scholar Award is administered by the Mary Kirkland Center for Lupus Research at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York and supported by Rheuminations, Inc. It provides $60,000 a year for three years to support lupus research. Dr. Pascual was officially awarded at the 70th Annual American College of Rheumatology Meeting in Washington, DC, on November 11.

"It is a great honor to receive the Kirkland Scholar Award since the recipients are nominated by their peers in the field of lupus research," shares Dr. Pascual.

This new funding follows awards for lupus research at BIIR earlier this year that total nearly $3 million. Other lupus projects at BIIR are supported by the Alliance for Lupus Research and the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

"BIIR has a very strong lupus and autoimmunity program, and these recent awards, especially the establishment of the Center for Lupus Research, further demonstrate the quality and success of our program," states Michael Ramsay, M.D., president of Baylor Research Institute.

The Center for Lupus Research will support researchers at BIIR as well as teams led by three co-investigators. Robert Coffman, Ph.D., a member of the National Academy of Sciences, is the Vice President and Chief Scientific Officer for Dynavax Technologies in California. Michel Nussenzweig, M.D., Ph.D., is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator and Senior Physician at Rockefeller University in New York. Edward Wakeland, Ph.D., is the Director of the Center for Immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Dallas-based Baylor Institute for Immunology Research is the immunology research component of BRI, an affiliate of Baylor Health Care System. Opened in 1996, Baylor Institute for Immunology Research brings laboratory scientists and clinicians together in an effort to increase understanding of how the immune system works. The institute is devoted to translating basic laboratory discoveries made about the immune system into effective treatments for patients. This interdisciplinary program focuses on developing new therapies to treat conditions that involve the immune system, such as autoimmune diseases, cancer, infectious diseases and organ transplants. A major focus is the use of dendritic cells (immune system cells that are the 'sentries of the immune system') to regulate the immune system in beneficial ways.

About Lupus
Symptoms of lupus can include a facial rash on the nose and cheeks, sensitivity to sunlight, swollen joints, inflammation around the heart and lungs, kidney damage, anemia, seizures and a weakened immune system. The severity of the symptoms often fluctuates between periods of less intense activity and times when they are much worse. These flares are unpredictable and there are no current laboratory tests to predict them.

Baylor Health Care System

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