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Ann Marshak-Rothstein awarded Lupus Insight Prize

UMass Medical School Communications

June 22, 2016
  Ann Marshak-Rothstein, PhD

Ann Marshak-Rothstein, PhD

Ann Marshak-Rothstein, PhD, professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology, was recently awarded the prestigious Lupus Insight Prize, which includes a $200,000 award to be used for research dedicated to advancing the understanding of genetic, environmental, molecular, immunologic or cellular aspects of lupus and its treatment.

The Lupus Insight Prize, presented in collaboration from the Alliance for Lupus Research, the Lupus Foundation of America and the Lupus Research Institute, is awarded to recognize and honor an outstanding investigator with a documented record of creativity, innovation and productivity. Dr. Marshak-Rothstein has discovered major, novel insights that have changed the thinking about lupus pathogenesis. The award is expected to lead to further advances in the diagnosis and treatment of this important disease.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is a chronic and often disabling autoimmune disease in which the human immune system becomes hyperactive and attacks normal, healthy tissue. As a result, no two cases of lupus are alike. Symptoms may affect many different body systems, including joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart and lungs. Some people develop kidney problems, for example, while others suffer from premature heart disease, strokes or lung inflammation. There is no known cause or cure for lupus and no new treatments have been approved for the disease in 50 years. The treatments currently available can often be toxic and more damaging than the disease itself. Estimates indicate that more than 1.5 million Americans have lupus.

Marshak-Rothstein’s research group was the first to propose that toll-like receptors (TLR)—a class of proteins that play a key role in the innate immune system—could have a primary role in lupus by turning on the immune system to attack the body. Because TLR proteins are essential in fighting any infection, how the body loses control over their activity is a fundamental question in immunology. Finding the causes of lupus, the prototype for autoimmune disease research, could have broad implications across a wide range of illnesses affecting millions. Recent studies found that one TLR, called TLR7, has a harmful role, while another, TLR9, has the opposite effect of helping to protect against lupus.

Building on this work, Marshak-Rothstein is developing an innovative experimental approach to pinpoint which specific TLR is mainly to blame for causing lupus in humans. This approach may also reveal new targets for therapies that could prevent or arrest lupus.

Marshak-Rothstein’s award will be used to explore the regulatory role of TLRs in an animal model of cutaneous lupus that has strong similarities to the human disease. The model will also be used to test the efficacy of immune-targeted therapeutics.

Related story on UMassMedNow:
UMMS researcher receives $1 million award for lupus work