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28 Oct 2019

Professor Fabienne Mackay lands $1 million award for Lupus and microbiome study

Professor Fabienne Mackay, Head of the School of Biomedical Sciences and laboratory head at the Doherty Institute has received a Lupus Research Alliance Award to explore a novel therapeutic strategy for the treatment of Lupus.

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE, lupus) is a debilitating, multisystem autoimmune disease where the body’s immune cells start to attack its own cells and tissues.

Despite years of intense global research, current lupus therapies are based on broad-spectrum immuno-suppression. These are non-specific and toxic.

Professor Mackay, who is in America to accept the award this week, is working to change this.

Through this Lupus Research Alliance Award, she and research partners will investigate depletion drug therapy together with a nutrition and gut microbiome methodology. It is the first time this approach has been taken.

The Distinguished Innovator Award aims to attract exceptional scientists and support them to investigate bold ideas. Research funded under this grant is expected to be highly innovative and to address the fundamental causes of lupus, to lead to significant discoveries in lupus research and provide new directions towards a cure.

“Radically different approaches are needed to address the significant unmet need in patients,” Professor Mackay says.

The proposed research project, Novel therapeutic approach for SLE, will use an experimental mouse model of lupus, removing disease-causing immune cells using engineered proteins. This will then reset the immune system to a state of unresponsiveness – where it doesn’t recognise and react against itself.

This state will be maintained using a new breakthrough in the understanding of nutrition and the gut’s microbiome. It will include special diets – high in dietary fibre – which change the microbiome in a beneficial way.

Professor Mackay’s team believe this ‘reset’, combined with a maintenance approach offers the best chance for significant improvement in patient health. If successful in mice, clinical trials in humans could start quickly.