Since 1979 Lupus Association of NSW has been the leading peak body which offers advice, information, support and networking for patients across NSW and now also parts of Australia.
1. To facilitate support and provide counselling and factual up to date information for our members.
2. To promote understanding of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) and related Connective Tissue Diseases (CTD) amongst ourselves, our families, medical and allied health professionals and the community.
3. To operate as a resource base for information and literature regarding Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and related Connective Tissue Diseases.
4. To liaise with similar organisations both interstate and overseas.
5. To promote financial support for research, training and health care services for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and related Connective Tissue Diseases.
6. To consult with Government bodies for appropriate funding for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and related Connective Tissue Diseases.
What is lupus?
Also known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), lupus reprograms immune cells so they attack the body itself, resulting in chronic inflammation. It can affect the kidneys, joints, skin, brain, and the lining of the heart and lungs. Lupus can be mild or life-threatening.
Risk factors for developing lupus
The triggers for lupus are poorly understood. Some factors that are associated with developing lupus are:
- Being female: 90 per cent of Australians with lupus are women.
- Early adulthood: most cases of lupus are detected in people aged between 15 and 40.
- Genetic susceptibility: lupus is more prevalent in some families and some racial groups. Lupus is more prevalent and more severe in Aboriginal Australians than in the wider Australian population.
- Sunlight exposure can be a trigger in susceptible people.
1 in 1,000
Lupus is estimated to affect more than 25,000 (1 in 1,000) people in Australia
Onset usually occurs between 15 and 45 years
90% of those affected are women
World-first discovery may enable an effective long-term lupus treatment
Two years away from clinical trials, the method targets the T-cell in the immune system – offering patients the possibility of a treatment beyond medication and its side effects.
Australian researchers have worked out how to fix a defect that causes lupus, and hope their world-first discovery will offer effective long-term treatment.
Published in Nature Communications, the Monash University-led study found a way to reprogram the defective cells of lupus patients with protective molecules from healthy people.
Using human cells, the new treatment restores the protective side of the immune system that prevents autoimmunity, which is when the immune system attacks its own cells. The findings relate to the autoimmune disease lupus, a debilitating disease with no cure and limited treatments.
But researchers hope this new method, developed in test tubes and proven in pre-clinical models, can also be developed for other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
Humans all have proteins that the immune system could attack, but this doesn’t happen in healthy people because of special cells called ‘regulatory T cells’ or ‘T-regs’ that protect from autoimmune disease. These are lacking in people who develop lupus and other autoimmune conditions.
Co-senior author Associate Professor Joshua Ooi, who heads Monash University’s Regulatory T Cell Therapies Group based at Monash Health, said the therapeutic effect was achieved by identifying specific protective molecules from healthy people and reprogramming ineffective lupus patient T-regs to restore their ability to switch off unwanted immune responses.
“We showed the effectiveness of this approach using human lupus patient cells, both in the test tube and in an experimental model of lupus kidney inflammation,” Associate Professor Ooi said.
“We were able to completely arrest the development of lupus kidney disease, without the use of the usual non-specific and harmful immunosuppressant drugs. It’s like a reset of the abnormal immune system back to a healthy state – kind of like a major software upgrade. That it uses the patient’s own cells is a very special part of this.”
About one in 1000 Australians has lupus, and rates are higher in First Nations communities. Nine in 10 people with lupus are female and most develop it aged 15-45.
Co-senior author Professor Eric Morand, who is Dean of Monash University’s Sub Faculty of Clinical & Molecular Medicine and founded the Monash Lupus Clinic, described the treatment’s effectiveness as “profound” and a “game-changer”.
Study patients are managed at Monash Health, where Professor Morand is Director of Rheumatology. He said the research team was now designing clinical trials expected to start in 2026 to investigate whether this method was a long-term cure for people with lupus.
“The ability to target, specifically, the disease-causing immune defect, without the need to suppress the entire immune system, is a game-changer,” he said. “Even if the effects are only medium term, we are confident the treatment can be easily repeated as needed.”
Associate Professor Ooi previously discovered that a lack of specific T-regs to stop the immune system from targeting the body can lead to autoimmune disease. The new treatment would involve taking blood cells from the lupus patient, modifying them in the lab to restore this protective effect, then giving them back.
“This project relied on the generous involvement of patients, which enabled us to use human lupus cells every step of the way,” Associate Professor Ooi said. “This allows us to work as close to the human disease as possible in the lab.
“This is a unique characteristic of Monash University — state-of-the-art research labs side-by-side with clinicians and patients, in this case at Monash Health.”
Co-first authors Peter Eggenhuizen, a PhD candidate and Research Fellow with the Centre for Inflammatory Disease Monash University, and Dr Rachel Cheong, former PhD candidate at the Centre for Inflammatory Disease Monash University, are confident the new method can be developed for up to 100 other autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Sjögren’s syndrome, scleroderma, and myasthenia gravis.
“This breakthrough offers huge hope not only in lupus but across the spectrum of autoimmune diseases,” Mr Eggenhuizen said. “There is a huge range of autoimmune diseases that could be targeted with this approach.”
Added Dr Cheong: “The great thing is that because the treatment is very specific, it doesn’t harm the rest of the immune system. However, this means that the treatment needs to be carefully developed disease-by-disease, as each one is distinct.”
This research was supported by multiple national and international agencies, including the New-York headquartered Lupus Research Alliance, and was part of a body of work that won Professor Morand and Associate Professor Ooi the 2022 Victoria Prize for Science and Innovation in Life Sciences.
Case study – Vu Nguyen
Vu Nguyen, 39, was diagnosed with Lupus in 1995 aged nine after she developed swelling and pain in her joints. Almost 30 years later, Vu has experienced a range of symptoms, kidney biopsies and hospital stays. She had a stroke when she was 22 and now has epilepsy, which is secondary to lupus.
It took many years to stabilise Vu’s condition, which inspired her to establish Lupus Victoria. A Masters of Marketing graduate, Vu is completing psychological science post-graduate qualifications so she can counsel those who have the disease.
“My main symptoms are now bad functioning kidneys and my epilepsy,” Vu said. “With Lupus, it always changes. I’m currently in remission but I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with this disease. I think the lupus has made my body more prone to having the stroke and subsequent epilepsy. I am good at the moment. It’s just the epilepsy that’s currently attacking my body.
“This new treatment will really help people living with lupus; if the treatment was around 30 years ago it would have made a real difference for me. It could really cut down the many different types of medicines we take. With this procedure, we could possibly need just one treatment.”
Some quick links to help you
The Lupus Association of NSW site is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for professional medical advice, examination, diagnosis or treatment. However, do not delay seeking or disregard medical advice based on information on this site. Always seek the advice of your local family physician or other qualified health professional before starting any new treatment or making any changes to existing treatment. Medical information changes rapidly and while the Lupus Association of NSW make efforts to continually update the content on the site, some information may be out of date.