NIH awards $15M grant for brain imaging, additional research into lupus

The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research has been awarded a $15 million grant to better understand how brain impairment is connected to lupus.

Director of the lab’s molecular medicine division, Betty Diamond, MD, and colleagues will utilize the five-year National Institutes of Health award to analyze the brain receptor anti-N-methyl D-aspartate, according to a July 20 announcement.

They’ll use brain imaging and other tests to determine the receptor’s effect on adult and fetal brain function in those with the autoimmune disease. According to Feinstein, lupus affects nearly 1.5 million Americans. Upwards of 90% of these patients suffer cognitive impairment, with many ultimately diagnosed with neuropsychiatric lupus.

“We have researched NPSLE for 20 years, and that research shows that antibodies may create a chronic inflammatory state in the brain of adults and cause permanent cognitive impairment in their children who are exposed to these antibodies in pregnancy,” Diamond added in a statement. “With the NIH’s support, we will study if common medications could protect against these negative effects of lupus.”

The institutes, which function as the research arm of healthcare giant Northwell Health, will conduct PET and MRI studies in patients with lupus to understand the underlying causes of their cognitive dysfunction.

Additionally, Diamond will evaluate how specific antibodies alter male and female brain development, keying in on a strategy to guard fetuses from these antibodies.

“As an internationally recognized leader in the field of lupus, Dr. Diamond has been supported by the NIH for many years,” said Kevin J. Tracey, MD, president and CEO of the Feinstein Institutes. “This award is crucial to accelerating her pathfinding work into how lupus impairs brain function and behavior, one of the most important complications of this autoimmune disease.”