Come hell or high water

“I recommend that you take the medication each day, come hell or high water.”

I sometimes use this cliché’ phrase as I counsel patients suffering with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). Clinical research shows that diligence and persistence in use of immune system-modulating drugs is important for optimal disease control for many people with SLE. Some drugs need to be taken day in and day out, for months or years, to be most effective. Repeated clinic visits, blood monitoring requirements, pharmacy charges, and side effects all represent “hell and high water” barriers that threaten SLE patients’ good intentions. Months or years get to be a long time during the battle to maintain treatments. As a prescriber who has been around the block a few times, I know that it takes dedication and diligence to adhere to regimens involving multiple medications. Until we have cures, I consider it part of my job to be a cheerleader for long-term use of proven treatments.

This week, I was reminded that persistence is also a necessary trait for those who labor in SLE research. Workers in our research groups at the U of MN had to combat “high water”, literally, to keep doing the job of working for cures. On Sunday morning, February 17, a sprinkler system pipe ruptured in the Wallin Medical Biosciences (WMBB) Building on campus. 7000 gallons of water rushed out in about five minutes. Suddenly, the floors of 10 immunology laboratories, including several that conduct lupus-related research, were submerged to a depth of two inches.

The moisture and the sub-freezing temps did not deter Yaya Wang, Ph.D., Research Associate in the Division of Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases. Upon hearing of the flood, she threw on some rubber boots, hopped in her car, and drove straight to WMBB.

Yaya Wang, Ph.D.

After helping other researchers to ascertain that key lab equipment and supplies were shifted above the water line, Dr. Wang got down to scientific work. She had been laser-focused on the question of whether PTPn22, a SLE “risk” gene, is important for controlling joint inflammation, for many months. Indeed, a critical and complex, two-week-long experiment to address this question was in progress when the pipe burst.

Dr. Wang determined that “hell or high water” would not prevent her from finishing the study. She calmly sloshed to her workbench and made the necessary measurements amidst the waves and the clean-up chaos. I learned yesterday that the overall experiment has been a success. The data obtained will support a soon-to-be published paper about PTPn22 and inflammation, written by Dr. Wang and other waterlogged researchers at the U of MN.

Providers and patients are fortunate to have coworkers like Dr. Wang with us on the long “Road to a Cure” for SLE. We should not be surprised, however, if future grant proposals coming from U of MN SLE researchers contain budget requests for life preservers and rowboats.


About the Author:

Erik Peterson, M.D., is Associate Professor in the Division of Rheumatic and Autoimmune Diseases, Department of Medicine, at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Peterson received his M.D. from the University of Minnesota. He served his Internal Medicine residency at the University of Colorado and performed a Rheumatology fellowship at the University of Iowa. He did postdoctoral training in the laboratory of Dr. Gary Koretzky at the Universities of Iowa and Pennsylvania. Dr. Peterson was named a U.S. News and World Report 2012 Top Doctor. Dr. Peterson's laboratory group in the Center for Immunology at the U of MN focuses on the molecular mechanisms behind recently identified “risk” genes associated with autoimmune diseases such as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. His project “SLE Risk gene PRPn22 promotes TLR signaling to type 1 Interferon” is funded by a 2013 Lupus Foundation of Minnesota clinical research grant.
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