the torch Summer 2016, Issue 2 - Page 16

F C U S O N R E S E A R C H Advanced research on lupus published in prestigious scientific journal New research that may dramatically improve drug development for systemic lupus erythematosus patients was recently published in Cell, the most prestigious scientific journal among biologists. The paper, “Personalized Immunomonitoring Uncovers Molecular Networks That Stratify Lupus Patients,” was authored by Virginia Pascual, M.D., principal investigator of the study and researcher at Baylor Institute for Immunology Research, part of Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. Dr. Pascual holds the Maxwell A. and Gayle H. Clampitt Endowed Chair in Immunology Research. “This achievement reflects Dr. Pascual’s commitment to excellence and continuous improvement of care for patients with lupus,” said Donald Wesson, M.D., senior vice president of medical education and research for Baylor Scott & White Research Institute. “For many investigators, simply getting a publication in Cell is the highlight of their career, but for Dr. Pascual it’s another great honor in a career that has brought prestige to her and to Baylor Scott & White Health.” Lupus is a chronic disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues, causing inflammation, pain and organ damage. It’s a complicated condition that is difficult to diagnose and complex to treat since no two cases are alike. Clinical trials for effective drug treatments have had limited success. In this study, Dr. Pascual and her team aimed to understand the molecular diversity of the disease to make future drug development easier and more effective. “The results included in this paper provide an explanation for why clinical trials fail in lupus, and opens the door for true personalized approaches to drug discovery and treatment,” Dr. Pascual said. Researchers studied the genes in 924 blood samples from 158 pediatric lupus patients from Texas Scottish Rite Hospital and other pediatric hospitals for four years. This personalized immunomonitoring approach, which measures gene expression activity of different cell types, allowed researchers to classify patients into seven molecular groups according to their gene expression patterns at the time of both disease flares and remissions. Marilynn Punaro, M.D., medical director of rheumatology at Scottish Rite Hospital, and her team are co-authors of the study. It 16 Dr. Virginia Pascual may ultimately improve clinical trial design and implementation of tailored therapies in lupus and other genetically and clinically complex autoimmune diseases. “This is a landmark study that has the potential to dramatically improve treatment and quality of life for the hundreds of thousands of people suffering with lupus,” Dr. Pascual said. Baylor is deeply committed to immunotherapy research, the development and implementation of personalized medicine, and delivering improved care for those in the community suffering with autoimmune diseases through new, innovative therapies. Philanthropic gifts have been instrumental in promoting and encouraging this research, and will be crucial going forward. “We are fortunate to have incredible technology, but it is extremely expensive to use,” said Dr. Pascual. “Donor support allows us to study a greater number of patients, analyze more samples and run additional tests that would otherwise not be possible. The hope is that, through this work, we can figure out why lupus patients get the disease. This research could then be applied to other autoimmune diseases.”  For more information on research initiatives, contact Sarah Burdi at 214.820.4721 or