Autoimmune disease

At a glance

Studying proteins and genes in lupus as a basis for personalised care and treatment

Lead researcher

Dr James Peters


Imperial College London


Awarded and preparing to start

Amount awarded


Last updated



Lupus is a complex autoimmune condition that is inherently difficult to diagnose and treat due to the diverse nature of the disease. Patients can present with a broad spectrum of symptoms common to many generic diseases, such as joint pain, rashes and fatigue. Furthermore, the severity of these symptoms varies greatly between patients. This variability, in combination with the lack of understanding surrounding the disease, makes treating lupus challenging.

Dr Peters will investigate the differences in protein and gene expression within a large group of patients with lupus. The same characteristics will also be investigated and compared to a small group of healthy people. Using ‘omics’ technology, Dr Peters will measure and compare thousands of molecules in a single sample. This data will help to identify subgroups of lupus patients with common molecular characteristics.

Once these subgroups have been established, the clinical differences (i.e. in disease activity and clinical blood test results) between patients will also be compared. By understanding the molecular and clinical characteristics that differ between subgroups of lupus patients, specific treatments can start to be developed that are personalised to the target subgroup.

This project will also aim to identify biological markers of lupus disease activity using machine learning. Machine learning is a process in which a computer can ‘learn’ from the information it is given. In this case, the computer will learn to identify the molecular features associated with disease activity. This approach can then be used to identify new molecular and clinical characteristics associated with lupus.

The final goal of this research is to improve our understanding of the proteins involved in the development of lupus. Dr Peters will use large datasets to investigate genes linked to a change in protein levels which are potentially associated with lupus. If people who have genes associated with higher levels of the protein also have a higher risk of lupus, the protein may play a driving role in initiating lupus.

Identifying proteins involved in lupus onset also identifies new drug targets. By controlling the levels of these proteins, it may be possible to develop new treatments for lupus patients.

Dr Peters work has the potential to improve our understanding of this complex disease and identify novel drug targets for new treatments. In addition, Dr Peters' data will be accessible to the wider scientific community and can be utilised for future lupus studies.

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Autoimmune disease - Lupus

  • Why is there a need to fund new research?

    Lupus is a poorly understood autoimmune disease with limited treatment options.

    Despite several known triggers of lupus, the exact cause of the disease is unknown and there is currently no full cure.

    Living with lupus can be extremely challenging. 65 per cent of lupus sufferers report dealing with pain as the most difficult aspect of managing the disease. Early intervention can improve management of lupus, however the lack of understanding surrounding lupus contributes to delays in diagnosis. Current research estimates it takes over six years to be correctly diagnosed.

    There is a high clinical need to better our understanding of the disease and improve treatment options and outcomes for patients.

    The Foundation is delighted to have committed over £1 million to lupus research and contribute to changing the lives of those with lupus.

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