The role of the immune system in causing diseases is becoming better understood through research. This knowledge will be applied to design safer and more effective treatment methods. For example, completely revising the immune system of people with extremely aggressive treatments that virtually temporarily wipe out the immune system is being evaluated. Current studies involve immune eradication with or without replacement of cells that can reestablish the immune system (stem-cell transplantation).
Patients with SLE exhibit a variety of symptoms depending on the severity of their disease. In some cases, the onset of SLE is sudden, with patients developing fever and a general feeling of malaise (that can be mistaken for an acute infection), whereas other patients experience less acute episodes of fever and feeling unwell over many months and years.
Changes in ESR over time can help guide a healthcare professional toward a possible diagnosis. Moderately elevated ESR occurs with inflammation, but also with anemia, infection, pregnancy, and old age. A very high ESR usually has an obvious cause, such as a marked increase in globulins that can be due to a severe infection. A rising ESR can mean an increase in inflammation or a poor response to a therapy. A decreasing ESR can mean a good response, though keep in mind that a low ESR can be indicative of diseases such as polycythemia, extreme leukocytosis, and protein abnormalities.
Tingible body macrophages (TBMs) – large phagocytic cells in the germinal centers of secondary lymph nodes – express CD68 protein. These cells normally engulf B cells that have undergone apoptosis after somatic hypermutation. In some people with SLE, significantly fewer TBMs can be found, and these cells rarely contain material from apoptotic B cells. Also, uningested apoptotic nuclei can be found outside of TBMs. This material may present a threat to the tolerization of B cells and T cells. Dendritic cells in the germinal center may endocytose such antigenic material and present it to T cells, activating them. Also, apoptotic chromatin and nuclei may attach to the surfaces of follicular dendritic cells and make this material available for activating other B cells that may have randomly acquired self-specificity through somatic hypermutation. Necrosis, a pro-inflammatory form of cell death, is increased in T lymphocytes, due to mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, and depletion of ATP.
Kidney involvement in people with lupus is potentially life threatening and may occur in up to half of lupus patients. Kidney problems may become apparent when lupus patients feel ill with arthritis, have a rash, fever and weight loss. Less often, kidney disease may occur when there are no other symptoms of lupus. Kidney disease itself usually does not produce symptoms until it is in the advanced stages. It is important that kidney disease be diagnosed early and treated appropriately. The earliest signs of kidney disease are apparent from a urinalysis.
Researchers have made great progress in identifying people at-risk for lupus and the molecular markers (something found in cells that can predict lupus flares) that appear before the onset of symptoms. From these advances, scientists hope to generate early-intervention or even disease-prevention strategies. For people with established lupus, research is focused on designing new clinical trials that test drug candidates, which, if successful, could be combined with existing therapies. The Lupus Research Alliance is funding the most innovative research in the world, with the hope of finding better diagnostics, improved treatment and, eventually, a cure.
In studies conducted so far, African American patients and patients of African heritage did not appear to respond significantly to belimumab. An additional study of this patient population is planned to evaluate belimumab further in this subgroup of lupus patients. However, this difference in response to a treatment may be another indicator of the various ways that the disease affects different patients.
For instance, a dermatologist for cutaneous lupus (skin disease), a cardiologist for heart disease, a nephrologist for kidney disease, a neurologist for brain and nervous system disease, or a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal tract disease. A woman with lupus who is considering a pregnancy needs an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
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