Monash recognised as leader in lupus research

Monash confirmed its position as a national leader in research at the recent Australian Rheumatology Association (ARA) Annual Scientific Meeting.

Monash University and Monash Health researchers scooped the basic science free paper, poster, and trainee awards at the Meeting, representing 100 per cent of the annual basic science awards given by the ARA nationally.

Monash Health Rheumatology Fellow and Monash University PhD student Dr Champa Nataraja received the basic science poster award for 2018, and was also nominated for the new investigator award.

Dr Nataraja is investigating a protein called glucocorticoid induced leucine zipper (GILZ) as a potential treatment option for lupus.

“Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or lupus is a multi-system autoimmune disease that predominantly affects younger women,” Dr Nataraja said.

“The treatment of lupus has scarcely changed over the last six decades—glucocorticoids or steroids remain the most prescribed treatment in lupus.”

“As a ‘double edged sword’, the use of these drugs is accompanied by litany of adverse effects that contribute to morbidity and mortality in these patients,” Dr Nataraja said.

Dr Nataraja said there is an urgent need for a drug that mimics the anti-inflammatory effects of steroids but without the negative metabolic effects.

“GILZ may represent such an alternative, potentially leading to improved outcomes for lupus patients,” she said.

Monash Health colleague, rheumatology registrar Dr Kathryn Connelly, received the prestigious Roche Travelling Scholarship for best Basic Science Presentation by a trainee at the conference.

The former BMedSc(Hons) student at the School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health (SCS) is investigating how levels of different biological markers vary between patients with lupus, and how these variations relate to changes in their disease activity over time.

“This research will be a platform for better understanding biological pathways in patients with lupus, with the ultimate future goal being the ability to personalise disease monitoring and treatment,” Dr Connelly said.

Meanwhile, Dr Fabien Vincent, a research fellow in the Rheumatology Research Group, Centre for Inflammatory Diseases, was awarded the Best Basic Science Free Paper for 2018.

“My research focuses on a protein called BAFF, which we showed predicts the presence of kidney disease in some patients suffering from lupus,” Dr Vincent said.

“Unfortunately, no tool is currently available that enables physicians to select patients who could benefit from anti-BAFF therapy”.

Dr Vincent said future research would evaluate whether patients with lupus nephritis might benefit from a drug targeting BAFF.

In further recognition, the Australian Scleroderma Interest Group (ASIG)—whose Monash Health members include Dr Joanne Sahhar, Ms. Kathleen Elford, Dr Gene-Siew Ngian, and Dr Lucy Croyle— was awarded the ARA President’s Collaborative Research Prize.

“This highly prestigious prize, awarded triennially, is in recognition of national and international collaborative research efforts spanning not only our own discipline but also those of several other disciplines in medicine,” said Professor Eric Morand, Head of the Monash University Rheumatology Research Group..

“It’s also noteworthy that in the Basic Science award category, three of the six shortlisted papers were from Monash, including that of SCS PhD candidate Dr Melissa Northcott.”

“All these lean to some extent on the Monash Lupus research framework lead by Dr Alberta Hoi and supported by Dr Rangi Kandane and Monash Health nurse Ms Sue Morton,” Professor Morand said.

Professor Morand extends his sincere congratulations to all on this national level achievement.

“This is a very proud achievement for the team, and a proud day for me,” he said.