In Studying Lupus Nephritis, These Scientists are Taking Biopsies to the Next Level

According to a story from EurekAlert!, a team of researchers studying lupus nephritis, a kidney disease that can affect people diagnosed with lupus, are utilizing a highly precise new tool that is taking biopsies down to the individual cellular level. This tool is called single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNA-seq), and it allows them to look at changes in gene expression from just one cell.

About Lupus Nephritis

Lupus nephritis is a medical complication characterized by kidney inflammation which can appear as a result of systemic lupus erythematosus, more commonly known as lupus. In effect is a form of glomerulonephritis, but this form is linked specifically to lupus and has notable differences in outcomes and presentation. Lupus nephritis is an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. The cause of lupus and lupus nephritis is not well understood, with a variety of genetic and environmental factors possibly playing a role. Symptoms of the disease include swelling, fever, foamy urine, joint pain, high blood pressure, muscle pain, and the characteristic butterfly rash that also appears with systemic lupus. Treatment usually involves the use of immune system suppressing drugs such as corticosteroids, but when the disease progresses to kidney failure, kidney transplant is the best option. To learn more about lupus nephritis, click here.

Biopsy Innovations

Lupus nephritis can easily become life threatening and is a leading cause of death for people who are affected by lupus. A kidney biopsy is the typical diagnostic procedure, but the traditional method does not allow for the precision necessary to make reasonable conclusions about the severity of a patient’s disease or how treatment should proceed.

However, scRNA-seq is allowing the researchers to identify distinct genetic “signatures” that are associated with nephritis in a variety of different kinds of kidney cells. The researchers also conducted the procedure using skin cells and were surprised to see that they displayed disease specific changes as well, meaning that an invasive kidney biopsy would not be necessary for diagnosis. One valuable finding was that affected cells had higher interferon scores compared to controls, suggesting that some experimental drugs that affect interferon signaling could be useful for the disease. The researchers are confident that scRNA-seq could be useful for biopsies in other diseases as well.

The study was originally published in the journal Nature Immunology. 

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