Deconstructing Lupus – Could Some of its Makeup Be Part of its Cure?

Pioneering UH Lupus Researcher is 1 of 7 in U.S. to Win Grant

Chandra Mohan
UH biomedical engineer Chandra Mohan is examining the protein ALCAM to find a cure for lupus.

Chandra Mohan, Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen Endowed Professor of biomedical engineering, has received a $600,000 Target Identification in Lupus grant from the Lupus Research Alliance to address fundamental questions in lupus research, remove barriers to new treatments and possibly find a cure for lupus and its complications.

Only seven lupus researchers across the country were asked to carry out these tasks. 

It’s a big ask. Lupus is a complex autoimmune disease that is difficult to diagnose and defeat. Only one treatment has been approved in nearly 60 years.

But Mohan knows exactly where to start. He will examine a protein called ALCAM (activated leukocyte cell adhesion molecule), which is important for activating T cells. ALCAM is also present in several kidney diseases and in the urine of patients with lupus kidney disease. He likens it to a bad guy being caught at the scene of several crimes.

“Lupus patients may have increased ALCAM in both their immune systems and their kidneys, and this probably plays a major role in activating the immune system and causing the kidney disease in lupus patients,” said Mohan.

While healthy people need ALCAM to activate their T cells to fight off foreign microbes in the body, in patients with an autoimmune disease, the activated T cells end up just fighting the patient’s own tissues, rather than a foreign body. 

Mohan will continue tracking ALCAM to confirm its presence in the kidneys of lupus patients rather than just the urine, while also investigating whether the increased ALCAM is indeed driving the disease. His research will also include treating lupus by testing an antibody that blocks ALCAM.

If the antibody does block lupus, then he could move onto translational studies and clinical trials, said Mohan, alluding to possible new drug therapies for the disease.

“We began this study looking for biomarkers and we think ALCAM is a good biomarker, meaning we may be able to track the disease by looking at the levels of ALCAM in the urine. But now we are finding that ALCAM may be a therapeutic target, too,” he said.

Also involved in the project are two doctoral students working in Mohan’s lab, Samantha Stanley and Sanam Soomro, senior staff member Kamala Vanarsa and research assistant professor Yong Du.