Mounting An Attack On Lupus


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Treatment options for systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system goes awry and attacks healthy tissues, may be expanded thanks to research conducted by Prof. Edna Mozes and colleagues of the Weizmann Institute's Immunology Department.

In a study reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (April 29, 1997, Vol. 94), Mozes's team synthesized two protein fragments that effectively immunized mice against lupus. The protein fragments were designed to mimic sections of the abnormal antibodies produced in lupus.

Although their precise mechanism has not been fully clarified, studies indicate that they prevent the initiation of the autoimmune response. Where the disease already exists, preliminary results in mice suggest that the new compounds may also cure lupus and therefore serve as a basis for developing new treatments for humans.

Systemic lupus erythematosus strikes mostly women between the ages of 20 to 40 and affects many parts of the body, including joints, kidneys and skin. The cause of the disorder is unknown, and it is presently treated with general immune system- suppressing drugs that cause many unwanted side effects. The new findings may lead to a more focused treatment that would selectively block the abnormal immune response and cause fewer side effects.

In a related study, Mozes and her team provided a scientific basis for studies suggesting that the drug methotrexate - generally prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis and some cancers - also has a beneficial effect on lupus. Using mice with an experimental lupus-like disease, the scientists demonstrated that methotrexate, which is known for its anti-inflammatory effects, reduces production of inflammatory molecules characteristic of the disease. This finding is reported in the Journal of Rheumatology (June 1997, Vol. 24, No. 6).

Prof. Edna Mozes holds the Heinrich G. Ritzel Chair of Immunology. Her study reported in PNAS is now supported by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, Ltd. The study that appeared in the Journal of Rheumatology was supported in part by the U.S.-Israel Binational Foundation and by the Crown Endowment Fund for Immunological Research.

The Weizmann Institute of Science is a major center of scientific research and graduate study located in Rehovot, Israel.