Lupus Research Alliance Announces Nine Promising Novel Research Grant Awards

Repurposing Existing Drugs to Treat Lupus

Laurence Morel, PhD, University of Florida
Depriving Immune Cells of Sugar Saps Energy for Attack

In a previous study, Dr. Morel showed that drugs that make less sugar available to immune cells could stop the development of lupus in a model of the disease. Sugar is important for many cell processes, so reducing the amount available has a similar effect as when a person eats less food—the cell’s activities slow down and it has less energy to fuel an attack. The same treatment also helped immune cells taken from the blood of people with lupus act more like healthy, non-lupus immune cells. Dr. Morel hopes that this treatment might help three existing drugs – belimumab, abatacept, and ruplizumab – that have small effects in people with lupus to work better. With support from her Novel Research Grant, she will test combinations of sugar-reducing drugs like metformin, a drug widely used in diabetes, with the three lupus treatments to see whether she can slow the disease or reverse kidney damage in lupus models.

What this study means for people with lupus

Dr. Morel is pursuing a highly promising translational research project aimed at treating lupus and its complications. Because she is working with drugs like metformin that are already approved for use in people, any positive results could be readily translated into clinical trials to test the efficacy of her drug combinations in people with lupus.