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Brain scans may provide a clear picture of lupus

Breakthrough research at the UTHSC may yield treatments for patients

New research at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSC) shows more than 80 percent of lupus patients suffer from some sort of brain dysfunction. The results appear in the April 23 edition of the Journal of Neurology and lay the groundwork for a brain imaging study in lupus patients.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease affecting one in every 2,000 Americans. It occurs when the immune system begins to attack itself. Symptoms include severe arthritis, a skin rash, ulcers in the mouth and nose, hair loss, and brain dysfunctions such as depression, manic disorders, seizures and movement disorder.

"We do know there are symptoms that relate to brain function in over 80 percent of lupus patients at some time or another during their disease process," said Robin Brey, M.D., a professor in the division of neurology. "Now we are interested in discovering what is going wrong in the brain."

Dr. Brey will advance her research with a $621,235 grant from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. She and her team will use brain scans in a groundbreaking attempt to pinpoint malfunctions in different regions of the brain.

"With imaging technology we can look at blood flow to the brain. We can see how well the brain is metabolizing glucose, and we can look at neurotransmitters to determine where they are located and whether they are doing what they are supposed to be doing," Dr. Brey said. "Eventually we will use this information to develop a treatment, either preventative or something that will help a patient already suffering from the disease."

Dr. Brey is collaborating with scientists at the UTHSC's Research Imaging Center.

Contact: Amanda Gallagher or Aileen Salinas