Sanger researchers share in grant to develop lupus treatments

Three international teams receive funding from Lupus Research Alliance to advance research targeting cognition, gut microbiome and ancestral genetics

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Dr Emma Davenport is part of a team of researchers to share in a $9 million grant to discover which molecular and genetic factors determine how lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease, affects different ancestral groups. The team will be led by Dr Eric Morand of Monash University, Australia, and includes colleagues from the University of Cambridge, King’s College London and Imperial College London.

Lupus is a chronic, complex autoimmune disease that affects millions of people worldwide. In lupus, the immune system creates antibodies that can attack any part of the body including the kidneys, brain, heart, lungs, blood, skin, and joints. More than 90 percent of people with lupus are women, who are most likely to be affected between the ages of 15 to 45. African Americans, Latinx, Asians, and Native Americans are at two to three times greater risk than those of European ancestry.

In the study of five different ancestral groups (Europeans, Afro-Caribbean, South and East Asians, and Indigenous Australians), the team will use the latest technological approaches to identify the ancestry-specific genetic variations associated with specific molecular pathways that are linked to lupus symptoms. The researchers will use advanced computational analysis of the dataset to identify potential genes that drive systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common form of lupus.

“Our project explores the high variation in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) symptoms and disease severity observed among different ancestral groups. This research will generate a massive amount of data that we can use to identify potential genes that drive or promote SLE. We hope these findings will identify new targets for treating or preventing lupus.”

Dr Eric Morand, Monash University

The whole-genome sequencing and gene expression data for this SLE cohort will be generated at the Sanger Institute. Dr Davenport leads a computational research group and they, together with the other members of the international team, will integrate these datasets with the patients’ clinical information to understand how genetics contributes to the variation in disease severity that is observed across patients and ancestry groups.

“Lupus is a life-changing chronic disease that takes a huge toll on those who live with it, with certain ancestral groups at greater risk. Treatments are limited and there is no cure, but with a better understanding of the molecular and genetic roots of the disease we may be able to change that.”

Dr Emma Davenport, Wellcome Sanger Institute

Full details of the grants can be found at the Lupus Research Alliance (LRA) website.

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