Doctors research treatments for lupus

July 18, 2008 8:21:23 AM PDT
For decades, doctors have been struggling to treat a debilitating disease that affects more than a million Americans, most of them women. The disease is lupus. But now Bay Area researchers may be closing in on the first new treatment for the disease in nearly half a century.

Her body delivers the kind of power that should give Salimah Mussani a bright future in the LPGA.

But something inside her body is also holding the former Stanford star back, Salimah has lupus.

"I know when it's coming on, eyes get sore, fingers start to swell up," said Mussani.

In six years as a pro, Salimah says she's been forced to drop out of tournaments because of the numbing fatigue.

She eventually decided to take a hiatus, and return to Stanford a coach.

"First few years I'd play through it, and next thing I knew I'd be laid up for three months," said Mussani.

But while Salimah is coaching golf and resting her body, researchers on the same Stanford campus believe they may be close to new and effective treatments for her disease. In fact, it is the first truly new treatment for lupus in decades.

"My personal goal, what I would like to see is to pick up these patients before they're patients, when we know there might be a high risk of developing the disease and try to cure them up front," said Dr. Paul Utz from Stanford University.

At his research lab, Dr. Utz says he's documented encouraging results using drugs such as Rituxan, originally approved for treating cancer.

"We're actually very optimistic about the drug and anecdotally use it off label for patients who have severe form of the disease and have seen terrific results in their response to therapy," said Dr. Utz.

But the road to FDA approval is still complicated. A recent clinical trial conducted by the manufacturer, Genentech, proved inconclusive.

Lupus is an auto-immune disorder that can attack different patients in different ways.

But Dr. Utz and his team have now begun studying genetic markers, taken from blood samples, to learn more about the physiology of specific lupus patients.

"We think we can develop this program to enroll patients in trials. In other words to select which patients will respond to drugs," said Dr. Utz.

He says other studies are also showing promise with drugs that can block certain types of interferon, a molecule which may cause the immune systems of lupus patients to attack their own cells.

While an approved treatment may still be some time off, the advances are offering at least some hope, to patients like Salimah in their drive, to take back their lives.

"I would like to be out there, giving my best whenever I can," said Mussani.

While lupus can attack either gender, about nine out of 10 patients are women, mostly of child bearing age.

It's also more prevalent among African-Americans, Latinos and people of Asian descent.

Related links:

  • Lupus Foundation of America
  • Dr. Utz Website


  • Load Comments