The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research was just awarded a five-year $15 million in grant funds by the National Institutes of Health to study brain dysfunction associated with lupus. This autoimmune disorder impacts up to 1.5 million Americans. One with lupus faces a terrible situation where one’s own immune system attacks cells and organs through antibodies, triggering rash, fever and joint pain most commonly but can lead to dangerous conditions, such as organ failure. The research is led by principal investigator Dr. Betty Diamond, director of the Feinstein Institute of Molecular Medicine.
Potentially up to 90% of those with lupus may deal with impacts on their own cognition, leading to the diagnosis of neuropsychiatric lupus (NPSLE). Dr. Diamond seeks to better understand how to improve the lives of those living with lupus and protect their children from developing the disease and NPSLE. Emphasizing the challenge, Dr. Diamond commented, “We have researched NPSLE for 20 years, and that research shows that antibodies may create a chronic inflammatory state in the brain of adults and cause permanent cognitive impairment in their children who are exposed to these antibodies in pregnancy.”
The NIH awarded these funds to support Dr. Diamond as she investigates the role of anti-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor (NMDA), a receptor which is found in the nerve cells that help control memory function, and its effect on adult brain dysfunction and fetal brain development of individuals with lupus. Dr. Diamond will study the impact of antibodies cross-reactive to DNA and the NMDA, known as DNRAbs, which has shown to induce a chronic inflammatory state in the adult brain and cause permanent cognitive impairment in offspring exposed to these antibodies in vitro.
Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institute emphasizes Dr. Diamond’s pedigree, noting, “As an internationally recognized leader in the field of lupus, Dr. Diamond has been supported by the NIH for many years.” Dr. Tracey also declared that “This award is crucial to accelerating her pathfinding work into how lupus impairs brain function and behavior, one of the most important complications of the autoimmune disease.”