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Lupus: a disease with many faces – search for new therapeutic approaches

(Vienna, 01-09-2015) Lupus is an autoimmune disease with so many different symptoms that it is often difficult to diagnose and to treat. Despite huge medical advances over the last few years, lupus is incurable. Modern, individually tailored therapeutic approaches are aimed at helping sufferers. The world congress organized by MedUni Vienna brings experts from more than 80 countries together in Vienna from 2 to 6 September to discuss the latest research results and therapies.

Approximately one in every thousand people suffers from lupus. It is an autoimmune disease, in which the immune system attacks the person's own body. It primarily affects women (in a ratio of 9:1), and leads to inflammatory responses, which can affect every organ in the body. "No other disease has such a broad spectrum of clinical expressions," explains Josef Smolen, Director of MedUni Vienna Department of Internal Medicine III at Vienna General Hospital, "it can affect all organs, joints and muscles. This makes it all the more difficult to diagnose and to find the most appropriate form of treatment. Hence lupus is the most complex disease in the world."

Medicine has made great advances over the last few years. Thanks to modern drugs, sufferers have a longer life expectancy and a better quality of life. "Although cortisone is still a mainstay of treatment, new therapeutic approaches often have fewer side effects and so improve quality of life," explains Georg Stummvoll of the Department of Rheumatology at MedUni Vienna Department of Internal Medicine III in Vienna General Hospital. “It is important to diagnose it correctly at an early stage, because, if it goes untreated, lupus can be fatal, ultimately leading to organ failure. The earlier it is detected, the more successfully it can be treated."

Individually tailored immunotherapy

"The treatment of autoimmune diseases such as lupus requires therapies that interfere with the actual genesis of the disease," explains Smolen, speaking of the new therapeutic approaches, "targeted therapies are directed at cell receptors on a molecular level. The therapy primarily targets active B lymphocytes in the immune system. In future this should be specifically tailored to the patient."

Pending the development of perfectly tailored individual therapy on a molecular level, one of the research aims is to optimize existing therapies and to minimize side effects. It is difficult to conduct large-scale clinical studies because of the relatively small number of patients affected (around 8,000 – 10,000 in Austria). Specialist centers are required to collate the relevant patient data and the Department of Rheumatology at MedUni Vienna has one such centre.

International Lupus Congress in Vienna
Because of the multiplicity of clinical manifestations, several medical specialisms are involved in lupus research. The Lupus Congress organized by MedUni Vienna, running from 2 – 6 September 2015 in Vienna, will bring together thousands of experts from over 80 countries and from many different specialisms. They will discuss new treatment options and the latest research findings. Josef Smolen is acting as Chairman and Georg Stummvoll as Secretary-General. Link: lupus2015.org

Five research clusters at MedUni Vienna

In total, five research clusters have been established at MedUni Vienna. In these clusters, MedUni Vienna is increasingly focusing on fundamental and clinical research. The research clusters include immunology, medical imaging, cancer research/oncology, cardiovascular medicine and medical neurosciences. Lupus and rheumatology research at MedUni Vienna falls within the remit of the immunology cluster.