As Lupus Therapies Gain Traction, URMC Offers Free Education Session

Sep. 27, 2011
Patients affected by lupus, along with their families and friends, are invited to the University of Rochester Medical Center’s fifth annual free patient education day on Saturday, Oct. 29

Patients affected by lupus, along with their families and friends, are invited to the University of Rochester Medical Center’s fifth annual free patient education day on Saturday, Oct. 29.

Held from 12:30 to 4 p.m., the event features doctors and nurses from URMC’s lupus clinic discussing how the disease affects the body. This year’s agenda will put a special focus on revolutionary biologic therapies, including newly FDA-approved Benlysta (belimumab), the first lupus drug to be endorsed in more than 50 years.

In addition to a close look into the state of research nationally and locally (the University is home to an NIH-funded Autoimmunity Center of Excellence that’s busy investigating new approaches for disease-management), the day will offer a general overview of the disease, therapeutic strategies, and helpful community resources, as well as a special breakout session spotlighting pediatric disease. A patient panel discussion will offer a telling glimpse into the real-life experiences of people coping with lupus. To reserve your place, please call Janet DiMora at (585) 273-4670.

In lupus – like in rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis – the immune system fails to differentiate between its own good cells and dangerous invaders, like viruses and bacteria. Rather than solely attacking these foreign materials, it generates faulty antibodies that also destroy the body’s own tissues. As a result, lupus sufferers can experience inflammation, pain and ultimately, damage, to their joints, skin, blood, and even major organs such as the heart, kidneys and brain. Fortunately, with early diagnosis and proper specialist care, patients can be treated earlier, enjoy symptom relief, and sometimes, in the more severe cases, even avoid irreversible organ damage.

Focus on novel therapies

New therapies approved earlier this year mark a momentous occasion, said Jennifer Anolik, M.D., Ph.D., a physician in the Division of Allergy/Immunology and Rheumatology and the event’s organizer.

“It’s been an exciting year for the lupus community,” she said. “Belimumab, which the FDA approved in March, is an improvement over our current medications, like steroids, which work by suppressing the immune system in broad fashion – sometimes resulting in infections, bone thinning, even heart disease.”

But belimumab is different; it’s a biologic medication representing a new wave of ‘targeted’ therapies that home in on a specific molecule and pathway thought to help a faulty B-cells (immune cells) survive. Thanks to its targeted approach, belimumab helps keep side-effects to a minimum. Perhaps even more exciting, the success of the belimumab clinical trials validates the utility of B-cell targeted therapies – a type of treatment approach Anolik and other University of Rochester scientists have been studying extensively for several years.

Lupus affects close to one and a half to two million people nationwide; 90 percent are women, who are most often stricken in their childbearing years. By and large, most people find it to be a controllable disease – perhaps experiencing fatigue, joint pain, or a rash, for instance, but otherwise managing well between medicine and consistent monitoring by their doctors. A smaller set of patients, however, do suffer a more extreme disease course, sometimes facing life-threatening problems.

Anolik and her colleagues, rheumatologists Iñaki Sanz, M.D., and R. John Looney, M.D., not only treat hundreds of lupus patients throughout Western New York – they also are in hot pursuit of some of the nation’s most promising treatments.

To learn more about URMC’s lupus clinic and program, visit or call Shirley Parks at (585) 341-7900 or Maria Allen at (585) 275-7167.