Scientists at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation have a gut feeling that the human biome holds clues to the origins of autoimmune diseases.
Researcher Patrick Gaffney, M.D., recently began a pilot study examining the “gut microbiome” — the community of microorganisms that live in the stomach and intestines — in patients with lupus.
“We're looking for significant differences between the microorganisms in lupus patients versus those with a healthy immune system,” he said. “We think the microbiome could play a role in initiating or dampening autoimmunity.”
If there are clear variations between the two, researchers will begin teasing out the big question: Why?
Autoimmune diseases, including lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren's syndrome, are conditions in which the immune system becomes overactive and, instead of attacking foreign invaders, turns against the body. The diseases have a genetic component — a combination of mutations in the DNA that “prime the pump” for disease — but require an environmental trigger.
“There's a possibility the trigger that sets off lupus might be hiding in the gut,” Gaffney said. “We're trying to figure out if and how the microbiome influences the genome or vice versa.”
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