Since 2015, the FEDER Foundation has been funding clinical and basic research projects with the aim of improving the understanding of rare diseases and developing new therapeutic strategies. Rare diseases are characterized by a very low incidence in the population, less than 10 patients per hundred thousand inhabitants, so they traditionally receive little attention in clinical research and development.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects almost 6 out of every 100,000 people. Many key aspects of its origin are still unknown, but it is characterized by an abnormal reaction of the immune system to components of its own healthy tissues, such as joints, heart, lungs and kidney, against which it releases large numbers of antibodies (called autoantibodies, because they attack oneself). This attack can cause damage to these tissues as a result of their direct degradation or as a consequence of their inflammation.
Despite being a complex disease, it is known that the severity of Lupus is directly related to the number of autoantibodies generated by the patient. This is especially important in cases of Lupus Nephritis, one of the most aggressive manifestations of lupus, which affects the kidney. Consequently, the project of the team led by Dr. Belver, which has received the support of the FEDER Foundation, will develop a strategy to reduce this number of autoantibodies and thus avoid the most severe cases of nephritis. To achieve this, they will have to destroy the autoantibody "factories", not an easy task since they are a small group of B lymphocytes, the antibody-producing cells. How can this be done without destroying the body's defensive capacity? Dr. Belver is convinced that a cell therapy inspired by CAR-T technology, which is proving to be successful in the fight against various types of leukemia, could be the solution. In short, Dr. Belver's lab will "reprogram" the patient's own immune cells to selectively recognize and eliminate the autoantibody-producing cells.
At present, Systemic Lupus Erythematosus has no cure and its default treatment is based on general suppression of the immune system. If the approach proposed by Dr. Belver is successful, which is still a long way off, it could be one of the first specific tools to treat it without compromising patients' ability to cope with other diseases.