Monash Lupus research acknowledged with Distinguished Innovator Award

Lupus patients are to benefit from research at Monash University thanks to an award of US$1 million. Professor Eric Morand, Head of the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health...

Lupus patients are to benefit from research at Monash University thanks to an award of US$1 million. Professor Eric Morand, Head of the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health and Head of Rheumatology at Monash Health, has received a highly competitive Distinguished Innovator Award in Lupus. An initiative of the Lupus Research Institute (LRI), the Distinguished Innovator Award is a global program for outstanding scientists to conduct novel research into the fundamental causes of lupus and drive towards a cure.

Ms Margaret Dowd, Lupus Research Institute President and CEO said: “Advances across many disciplines have led to novel treatments that aim to suppress the manifestations of lupus, yet few interventions are being developed that seek to reverse or prevent the disease. LRI Distinguished Innovators will address this gap by pioneering research into the fundamental, causative pathways of lupus.”

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE, or lupus) is a serious multisystem autoimmune disease. Patients with lupus, usually young women, can suffer severe illness and in some cases a shortened life expectancy due to the immune system damaging multiple organs,” said Professor Morand, who is also founder of the lupus clinic at Monash Health—Australia’s largest lupus-specific clinic.

Currently the most widely used treatment for lupus is steroids. However, their harmful side effects are often worse than the disease itself. Professor Morand’s research team is investigating proteins that separate the beneficial and harmful effects of glucocorticoids (also known as steroids).

“We hope to find a safer drug for the 70 per cent of lupus patients who take chronic steroid therapy simply because there is no alternative,” Professor Morand said.

While an effective treatment for lupus, glucocorticoids can cause severe side effects including organ damage and increased mortality.

“Our research will explore whether a protein we recently discovered, GILZ (Glucocorticoids, or GC-induced leucine zipper), is a factor in causing lupus and if it can be used to develop a safer treatment with fewer side effects,” added Professor Morand.

The first stage of this important research study was published this week in Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, the leading journal in the field of rheumatology. Professor Morand said receiving the LRI award is one of his career highlights and the funding will enable his ambitious research plans to be expedited, building on the work of Dr Sarah Jones, postdoctoral scientist in the Morand group and collaborators including Dr Brendan Russ from the University of Melbourne