Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Dr. John Harley and an international consortium of researchers have identified 13 genes they think contribute to lupus, an autoimmune disorder that affects as many as 2 million Americans. The findings appeared online in two related articles in Sunday's edition of the journal Nature Genetics. "We used to celebrate every gene one at a time and now we're going to celebrate 13 at once,” Harley said of the painstaking work of finding out how small changes in genes cause disease. "It's a humbling thing to be able to actually bring it to completion, and to know there were tens of millions of dollars involved in this, decades and decades of work by hundreds of scientists,” he said. "It's a miracle. There's no two ways about it.” The president of the Alliance for Lupus Research, Barbara Boyts, said she hoped the research will lead to "new and better” treatments. "This initial, important discovery will prove invaluable to all those affected by lupus,” she said in a news release.Comments
About the studyThe goal was to identify sections of chromosomes where abnormalities appeared regularly in lupus sufferers. "By identifying the mechanisms of disease through basic research, as was done here, it can lead to fundamental understanding of the disease process and help us develop better therapies to fight it,” Harley said. Researchers examined the genes of 720 women with lupus and 2,337 without. They looked at 317,000 locations on chromosomes where DNA sequences vary. They confirmed their data by studying 1,846 women with lupus and 1,825 without. Harley said access to thousands of people with and without lupus was necessary for the research to succeed. "A physician working for a lifetime specializing in this disease alone might see a few hundred (lupus patients) — four hundred, maybe,” Harley said.
The premier placeHarley said scientists increasingly view Oklahoma and OMRF as the premier place for lupus research. "A paper like this will raise that another level,” he said. Most of the research in the Nature Genetics study was performed at OMRF. Harley is head of OMRF's arthritis and immunology research program and has more than two decades of experience in lupus research. He estimated lupus research by the nine-member consortium responsible for the Nature Genetics paper will end up costing some $40 million. In a second study also published Sunday in the same journal, OMRF researcher Swapan Nath examined a specific gene's effect on lupus in 3,818 patients.
DID YOU KNOW?
Lupus•Lupus can affect any part of the body and can be life-threatening. •Lupus most commonly affects the skin, joints, blood and kidneys. •The disease occurs nine times more frequently in women than in men.
More research neededOklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist Dr. John Harley said he is always looking for lupus sufferers and those without lupus to serve as experimental controls. He said he particularly needs participants who aren't Caucasian. For more information, call (888) OK-LUPUS (655-8787).