The Lupus Foundation of America has funded a $110,000 grant for an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist to study the role of a specific protein.
For 20 years, researcher Carol Webb has studied ARID3a, a protein important in the production and development of adult stem cells — but her work had not led to lupus research until recently.
“You can't force science to go one way or the other,” said Webb. “When you make a discovery, you have to follow where it leads.”
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system confuses healthy cells with foreign substances, like viruses and bacteria, and attacks the body's tissues and organs. The illness affects 2 million Americans, roughly 90 percent of whom are women.
When scientists at OMRF discovered a correlation between autoimmunity and the Epstein-Barr virus, it piqued Webb's interest. She knew the virus could induce the creation of the ARID3a protein in some cells and had seen that mice whose cells created too much of the protein made the same kinds of antibodies sometimes observed in lupus patients.
“We were excited to find that nearly half of the cross-section of patients we examined also over-expressed this protein compared to healthy individuals,” she said. “We don't yet know if they create too much of the protein because of the inflammatory responses that occur in lupus or if the overabundance of the protein somehow leads to the disease.”
Webb said her goal is to determine if the cells that create more of the protein are more likely to lead to auto-antibody-producing cells than the cells that express normal levels of this protein. That information could be useful in certain procedures in which doctors transplant adult stem cells to help patients create new immune cells.