Winner of our most substantial grant, the Dr. William E. Paul Distinguished Innovator Awards in Lupus and Autoimmunity, Dr. Zhijian “James” Chen, Professor of Molecular Biology at UT Southwestern, just gained another prestigious award for that work from the Breakthrough Prize Foundation. He also recently received the 2018 Lurie Prize in Biomedical Sciences from the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Chen had discovered a mechanism that stimulates the immune system which could lead to novel treatments for infections, lupus and other autoimmune diseases and cancer. This discovery of an enzyme cGAS uncovered an essential process that alerts the immune system to viruses by sensing the presence of ‘foreign DNA within cells’. As a winner of our Dr. William E. Paul Distinguished Innovator Awards in Lupus and Autoimmunity, Dr. Chen was able to confirm his hypothesis that this pathway malfunctions in lupus, causing the immune system to mistakenly attack its own DNA. That breakthrough reveals a strong potential target for therapies to treat or prevent lupus, other autoimmune diseases and even cancer by blocking the enzyme cGAS.