Bio News Texas, by Leonore Mateus Ferrara ~ September 23, 2014

A new treatment for lupus may have been discovered by a group of biomedical engineers from the University of Houston (UH) in Texas, who have developed a drug that, unlike the current treatments for the disease, does not have a long list of side effects and risks. Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus, is a progressive and degenerative disease of the immune system that affects a patient’s healthy tissue, cells, and organs.

There is no cure for lupus, and one is not expected for the foreseeable future. However, the UH research team led by Chandra Mohan is working on a natural therapy using a plant-derived chemical. During their research, the engineers worked on the use of a synthetic, plant-derived compound, called CDDO, which can be effective in suppressing the development of the disease in murine models, like kidney disease, one of the most common consequences of lupus.

One of the medical complications associated with lupus is lupus nephritis, a disease that attacks the kidneys and affects about 40 percent of the lupus patient population. It causes inflammation of the kidneys and disables the organ so that it cannot properly expel body waste and toxins as it normally does. Lupus nephritis not only leads to tens of thousands of hospitalizations yearly, but it can also be deadly.

“The development of lupus is a two-step reaction,” said Mohan, as she explained that researchers still do not understand how CDDO is able to suppress lupus progression. ”First, the immune system develops antibodies that attack the body’s own DNA, then that activated immune system attacks the kidneys. We found that CDDO may block both of these steps.”

The only approved drug for the treatment of lupus, which has been commercialized for more than 50 years, is from the family of steroids, a class of immunosuppressive drugs used to retard the progression of the disease. However, this new treatment, which is plant-derived, carries fewer risks of infections and side effects.

“The most exciting part of this research is that CDDO is originally plant-derived, so it’s relatively natural and carries less chance of side effects,” Mohan said. “That’s a very important point, because many of the current therapeutic agents being used for lupus have significant side effects. As far as we have tested in these experiments, we found that the CDDO compound had no known side effects. Additionally, compared to many other test compounds we’ve previously tried for treating lupus, this one appears to be much more effective.”

The researchers are planning to continue with their studies in order to understand the functioning of CDDO in the immune system, and if it is able to suppress the activation of specific signaling pathways that lead to the development of lupus. The research is now going in the lab and, while it is not able to be tested on humans, Mohan has said that the results of the previous study encourage the idea that a natural treatment is more effective and may help the 1.5 million Americans and at least five million people worldwide who suffer from lupus.

The findings of the research were recently published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology, the monthly journal of the American College of Rheumatology. In addition to Chandra Mohan, the team from the UH Cullen College of Engineering includes Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen of the biomedical engineering department. The research had recently been awarded with a $200,000 grant from the Alliance for Lupus Research, as it is believed to be able not only to advance the treatment of lupus, but also to reduce the tens of thousands of annual hospitalizations caused by lupus nephritis.