Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation Discovery Could Lead to Lupus Cure

Article excerpt

Teresa Thompson loves square dancing, even though she has to wear a sign that says, "Please don't touch me." She dances with her husband, but sometimes she hurts so much that even he can only touch her hand and elbow.

In 1991, Thompson was diagnosed with lupus. Every day for the last 20 years she's had a headache; she also suffers from memory loss and arthritis. Last week, she was diagnosed with a rare but manageable form of cancer. Thompson hasn't had a steady job in years because when symptoms from the autoimmune disease flare up, she can't sit, stand or lay down for more than a few minutes at a time.

"Your brain becomes used to the pain, and you try your best to not to let it define who you are," Thompson said. "Everybody gets diseases of some sort; mine just has more challenges than most."

She hopes there will one day be a treatment that will help manage her symptoms. A personalized treatment could help the other eight members of her family who also have the disease. But for one sibling, a cure didn't come quick enough; her sister died a few years ago.

Dr. Patrick Gaffney is working to find a cure that would help Thompson. A medical doctor at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Gaffney is part of a group of research scientists that has discovered a gene associated with Lupus. Now they are working to understand how a change in one's DNA sequence is responsible for altering the genes that cause the disease.

Thanks to a $750,000 machine at OMRF, Gaffney and his colleagues can sequence a genome in 36 hours. Gaffney said that in a few years, if he and other scientists can identify people with a group of mutated genes associated with lupus, they will be able to understand which medicine is best for the patient.

But his research is expensive. A single genome sequencing test costs $5,000, so his team could easily spend $50,000 in two weeks. Most grants are about $500,000, but he can't spend all that money on the science. Some of it must be spent to keep the lights on and to pay research assistants and technicians. …