Published June 19, 2019
Jessy J. Alexander, PhD, research professor of medicine in the Division of Nephrology, will use her 2019-20 Fulbright scholarship to study how the microbiome — the collective microorganisms that live on and in the human body — may impact people in India diagnosed with lupus.
Researchers also hope to use the information gathered to determine how the microbiome may impact specific diseases depending on peoples’ ethnicities and where they live.
While genetic variations and environmental and hormonal factors are known to play important roles in the pathology of lupus — a systemic autoimmune disease that causes painful inflammation in various parts of the body — Alexander says that the exact mechanism causing the disease remains unknown.
For that reason, the disease is treated with immunosuppressants and corticosteroids that can have toxic side effects.
“Our hypothesis is that the microbiota vary in different geographic regions, causing wide diversity in symptoms and susceptibility to lupus,” Alexander says. “Few studies have examined the microbiome profile in Indian patients with lupus. We hope our research will bridge this gap and lead to better therapies.”
Factors to be studied include RNA sequencing of bacteria in the sputum and feces of about 30 patients and healthy individuals. The research also will involve evaluation of markers, such as complement proteins, kidney function and levels of cholesterol, glucose and insulin during disease flare-ups as well as during periods of quiescence (when the disease is inactive).
“We expect that the results will validate closer monitoring of microbiome variables in specific ethnic groups, which will, in turn, allow clinicians to make more informed decisions regarding appropriate treatment regimens for lupus patients,” Alexander says.
“It is our hope that this work will lay the foundation for assessing and comparing the microbiome in patients with lupus from different regions, such as China and the United States,” Alexander adds. “The ultimate goal is to identify the microbiome landscape of lupus that is common in patients from all regions, in order to identify the best therapies for all patients.”
Alexander is conducting her research in collaboration with John Mathew, MD, at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India.