Chemists Combine to Fight Lupus

Release Date:
Doris Brody, NIGMS

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), usually just called lupus, is an autoimmune disease that afflicts 500,000 Americans, 90 percent of them young women. For some reason, African American women have a higher rate of lupus--estimates are that approximately 1 in 250 young African American women will get the disease. Lupus has a wide range of symptoms, including potentially fatal kidney damage, caused by antibodies that attack the person's own DNA. Current treatments to curtail kidney damage in lupus are often either ineffective or can cause side effects so serious that the treatment must be discontinued.

Now, an unusual collaboration between two scientists working on very different types of research projects may provide a better way to prevent kidney damage in people with lupus. NIGMS grantee Dr. Gary Glick of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor has been studying anti-DNA antibodies that cause lupus-like kidney damage. Another NIGMS grantee, Dr. Jonathan Ellman of the University of California, Berkeley, has developed methods to synthesize and screen very large groups of molecules to assess their potential biological activity. Drs. Ellman and Glick were able to combine their expertise to search for potentially therapeutic compounds for lupus.

Using their screening techniques, the scientists discovered a compound that inhibits the binding of anti-DNA antibodies in mice. Testing is under way in lupus-prone mice to see if the compound can also prevent kidney damage. If all goes well, a new and potentially very valuable drug may be available for people with lupus.


Stevens SY, Bunin BA, Plunkett MJ, Swanson PC, Ellman JA, Glick GD. Non nucleic acid inhibitors of protein-DNA interactions identified through combinatorial chemistry. Journal of the American Chemical Society 1996;118:10650-1.

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