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Published on 9 June 2008

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Treatment hope for lupus sufferers


Researchers have discovered a potential new treatment for the chronic autoimmune disease lupus, it has been reported.

The proteasome inhibitor Velcade (bortezomib) is currently used to treat multiple myeloma, a cancer of the white blood cells, but scientists in Germany found that it worked against the disease and prolonged survival in mice with lupus.

“Autoantibody-mediated diseases such as autoimmune haemolytic anemia and systemic lupus erythematosus are often difficult to treat,” said lead researcher Dr Reinhard Voll, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. He said that plasma cells, which are the main producers of these autoantibodies, are not effectively treated by drugs currently available.

The findings, published in Nature Medicine, were given a cautious welcome by outside experts.

“The fact that antibodies almost completely disappeared is encouraging. I look forward to hearing more about this treatment in the future,” said Dr Jennifer Grossman, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles.

But another expert expressed concern that the treatment could adversely affect other cells in the human body.

“The downside is that this is a proteasome inhibitor, and there is no reason to think that it would be specific for plasma cells,” Dr Noel Rose, director of the Autoimmune Disease Research Center at Johns Hopkins University, said. “It does affect other rapidly proliferating cells.”

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