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22 Oct 2020

Gene signatures unlock understanding of lupus

Scientists have identified four gene ‘signatures’ amongst lupus patients, advancing understanding of the debilitating disease and promoting an individualised approach to therapy.

Lupus is a chronic condition caused by a malfunctioning immune system that continually attacks the patient’s organs and tissues. It’s unpredictable and characterised by ‘flares’, with symptoms rapidly aggravating for a period of time. While presentation and pathologies vary widely, the condition can lead to kidney damage, blood clotting, inflammation, and strokes or seizures.

Genetic computational analysis by University of Melbourne Dr William Figgett, post-doctoral researcher at the Doherty Institute, in collaboration with CSL and Monash University - uncovered four distinct clusters of lupus patients based on a patient’s gene expression signature, taking us one step closer towards an individualised approach to treatment.

Current medication options vary in efficacy and are associated with an array of destructive side effects. Clinicians must balance treating the disease in their patients with the harmful impact of the drugs on their organs and immune system.

“We discovered clues suggesting the patient’s gene signature may help predict appropriate types of medication, which we can now investigate further to take the guess work out of treating patients with lupus,” said Dr William Figgett.

“We found that two of the four clusters were associated with much higher levels of disease and more regular flares, and the other two were made up of healthier patients with relatively low levels of disease."

This research highlights important difficulties concerning clinical trials for new lupus treatments, which currently produce mixed results for patients.

“Future trials may benefit from our approach to classify patients based on their gene expression patterns, so that their 'type' of disease matches the treatment,” he said.

In recognition of the study’s scientific merit, Dr Figgett has been awarded publication of the year from the Clinical & Translational Immunology journal for 2020, and was endorsed by the Australia and New Zealand Society for Immunology.

Learn more about Dr Figgett's research here.

The video above is produced by CTI, ASI and Wiley.