Last year, Dr. Kathleen M. O’Neil was awarded a grant from the Lupus Foundation of America’s (LFA) Michael Jon Barlin Pediatric Lupus Research Program to study the effect of hormone changes in children and teens with lupus. Subsequently, Dr. O’Neil received an additional $328,000 from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Read her blog below to learn more about her work and how the LFA’s national research program grant has supported this important study.
The 2010 Lupus Foundation of America Michael Jon Barlin Pediatric Research Program grant has allowed our group of pediatric lupus investigators at 7 sites across the US and Canada to further our preliminary studies into the effects of hormone changes in puberty on lupus in children. We are investigating how hormones influence disease activity, and also how they change immune function in ways that promote lupus activity (more disease symptoms).
Systemic lupus erythematosus has long been recognized as a disease of women of child-bearing years, but why this is the case is not certain. Puberty is a natural time to study the rare children with pre-pubertal onset lupus, as they develop hormone changes one at a time, and we can document that easily with blood and urine measurements. Pediatric rheumatologists know that many girls and boys develop their first lupus symptoms around the time of puberty, but how and why this happens needs to be better understood. The observation of children with early, pre-pubertal onset SLE while they are entering into this time of complex hormone change should help us figure out which hormones cause flares, and how the immune system is affected by these changes. This can only be studied, though, using a multi-center approach, as no institution has enough children with very early onset disease who are approaching puberty at any one time.
The funding from the LFA has helped us continue studies initiated under an NIH “small grant,” making it possible to enroll more children in the study, and to continue to follow the children already enrolled. Perhaps most importantly, we have begun to enroll boys so that we can learn whether the hormone changes that affect lupus differ in boys and girls. We also hope to collect important clinical data from one of the larger groups of young children with SLE. The LFA-sponsored project has made sufficient progress to ensure that we have additional funding from the NIH to expand our research to 15 sites over the next 12 months.