Researchers who seek new biomarkers for human diseases may have many goals. In the field of lupus research, we would like to find biomarkers that could make the disease easier to diagnose, improve the management of disease activity, predict when a flare is likely to occur, and help physicians decide which medications to use (or avoid) in a particular patient.
Thanks to advances in genomic and proteomic technologies over the past 10 years, lupus researchers have been successful in identifying many candidate biomarkers in human SLE. Many of these studies have been focused on patients of European descent. However, African Americans are disproportionately affected with SLE. Not only is the incidence of SLE in African American women higher than in Caucasian women, but African Americans also tend to have more severe disease compared with white SLE patients. We would like to gain a better understanding of the biology that leads to the increased severity of lupus in African American women, so that we may have a chance to improve patient care and reveal new targets for therapy.
Our goal in this study, funded by the Lupus Foundation of Minnesota, is to detect patterns of gene expression in the blood that can be biomarkers for SLE in African Americans. So far, we have discovered several gene expression patterns that are unique to African Americans with lupus, in addition to patterns that are found in both African American and Caucasian patients. Our next step is to study these patterns in patients who have been followed over time, so that we can determine whether they change as patients experience flares of their lupus.
In doing so, we may uncover biological clues to help explain the increased susceptibility to and severity of SLE in African American patients.
Ultimately, we hope that this study will provide a foundation for improving clinical management of lupus patients. These biomarkers may also point us toward new therapeutic targets that may be particularly effective in African Americans.