Understanding lupus | Action Medical Research

Touching Lives - September 2015

Understanding lupus

Dr Kate Webb of University College London has been awarded a Research Training Fellowship of more than £200,000 to try and find answers to help children and young people affected by lupus, a rare and disabling condition.

There are two main types of lupus, of which systemic lupus erythrematosus (SLE) is the more severe form and can affect many parts of the body, including the skin, joints and internal organs.

When this distressing disease starts in childhood, it sadly tends to be more severe and can prove life-threatening. Symptoms are unpredictable and can include rashes, arthritis, low blood counts, kidney problems, headaches and seizures. There is no cure and while medications can help they often cause side effects such as weight gain, tiredness and susceptibility to infections.

Estimates suggest hundreds of children in the UK are affected by the condition. It typically affects girls and is more common in Afro-Caribbean and Asian people.

Dr Webb explains: “We know that SLE is more common in girls, and that it often starts during puberty, but we don’t know why. I am trying to help fill that gap in understanding. This could help young people with SLE to get a better understanding of why they have developed the disease and why it started when it did.”

The symptoms of SLE are caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking parts of the body – such as the skin, blood, brain, joints, kidneys, lungs and heart. Dr Webb is investigating possible reasons for this attack during puberty, by studying how hormonal changes affect the immune system.

“By increasing our understanding of the disease processes involved, my work could help us to identify possible new approaches to treatment,” she explains.

Dr Webb is one of the latest recipients of our prestigious Research Training Fellowship grants, which support the most promising young doctors and researchers early in their careers. She specialises in children’s rheumatology and has treated many teenagers with SLE.

“I am extremely excited to begin work on this project. The potential for benefit in a disease that is so unpredictable and has no cure is huge, especially as I think research into SLE during puberty has previously been neglected,” she says.

“It is an enormous privilege to be awarded a fellowship by Action Medical Research, an organisation that has contributed so much to the health of children and young people.

Help us spread the word