In the chronic disease lupus, the immune system runs amok to damage skin, joints, blood cells, kidneys, heart, brain or lung. This mistaken attack of inflammation is triggered by signaling proteins called interferons. Mark Walter, Ph.D., professor of microbiology in the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, is seeking a way to detect — at the level of individual immune cells — exactly which interferons and which cells provoke the disease. This ability would help develop blood tests to diagnose the disease and also measure the effectiveness of lupus treatments. If Walter is able to finger the prime interferon culprits, it will help guide the design of more precise interferon inhibitors to treat lupus, a disease that affects at least 1.5 million Americans.
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