Lupus-microbiome connection in India is focus of UB professor’s Fulbright research

The ultimate goal is to determine what role the microbiome may play in lupus patients worldwide

Release Date: April 25, 2019

Jessy Alexander in a white lab coat in her lab.
“Few studies have examined the microbiome profile in Indian patients with lupus. We hope our research will bridge this gap and lead to better therapies. ”
Jessy Alexander, PhD, Research professor, Department of Medicine
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The microbiome—the collective microorganisms that live on and in the human body—and their roles in different diseases is the subject of a rapidly expanding body of research. Less well-studied, however, is how the microbiome may impact specific diseases depending on peoples’ ethnicities and where they live.

A University at Buffalo researcher will use a Fulbright scholarship to study how both of those variables affect patients in India diagnosed with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus, more commonly known as lupus.

Jessy J. Alexander, PhD, research professor in the Department of Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, will use her 2019-20 Fulbright award to conduct this research in collaboration with researchers at Christian Medical College in Vellore, India.

While genetic variations and environmental and hormonal factors are known to play important roles in the pathology of lupus, Alexander explained that the exact mechanism causing the disease remains unknown. For that reason, the disease is treated with immunosuppressants and corticosteroids that can have toxic side effects.

“Our hypothesis is that the microbiota vary in different geographic regions, causing wide diversity in symptoms and susceptibility to lupus,” Alexander explained. “Few studies have examined the microbiome profile in Indian patients with lupus. We hope our research will bridge this gap and lead to better therapies.”

Factors to be studied include RNA sequencing of bacteria in the sputum and feces of about 30 patients and healthy individuals. The research also will involve evaluation of markers, such as complement proteins, kidney function and levels of cholesterol, glucose and insulin during disease flare-ups as well as during periods of quiescence (when the disease is inactive).

“We expect that the results will validate closer monitoring of microbiome variables in specific ethnic groups, which will, in turn, allow clinicians to make more informed decisions regarding appropriate treatment regimens for lupus patients,” Alexander said.

“It is our hope that this work will lay the foundation for assessing and comparing the microbiome in patients with lupus from different regions, such as China and the United States. The ultimate goal is to identify the microbiome landscape of lupus that is common in patients from all regions, in order to identify the best therapies for all patients.”


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