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Betsy Jo Barnes, PhD

Professor & Head
The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research
Laboratory of Autoimmune and Cancer Research, Center for Autoimmune, Musculoskeletal and Hematopoietic Diseases

Unexpected Role(s) for IRF5 Risk Variants in SLE Pathogenesis

Scientists know that for many people some of the risk for lupus is genetic—that is, inherited through their family line. The gene for interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5), a key player in the immune system, has been strongly linked to a higher risk for lupus. This means that some versions of the IRF5 gene are more likely to be found in people with lupus, although carrying the high-risk gene does not guarantee that a person will develop lupus. Dr. Barnes wants to understand how these different, high-risk versions of IRF5 help turn a healthy immune system into one that drives an autoimmune attack that leads to lupus. With her Novel Research Grant, she will compare IRF5 in people who carry high-risk versions of the IRF5 gene but do not have lupus with IRF5 in healthy people with low-risk versions of the gene. This study explores a very early stage in lupus development and may reveal why the immune system is triggered to begin an autoimmune attack.

What this study means for people with lupus
Dr. Barnes’ research focuses on people who are at high risk of developing lupus because of their genes, yet who have healthy immune systems and no signs of autoimmunity. If she finds differences in IRF5 that help steer the immune system down a path toward lupus, her study may reveal new targets for the treatment or, even, the prevention of lupus.

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