SEATTLE — Aug. 7, 2000 — Scientists at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center have developed a new diagnostic test for lupus, a disorder in which the immune system attacks the body. Because symptoms range from skin rash and mild fatigue to organ failure, diagnosis can be difficult.
While the majority of lupus patients produce antibodies to their own tissue that can be detected with a blood test that's been available since the 1950s, about 20 percent of patients - those who do not make such antibodies - often go undiagnosed.
A test developed by Mark Roth, Ph.D., a member of the Hutchinson Center's Basic Sciences Division, promises to bridge that diagnostic gap.
In the August issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism, Roth and colleagues report the discovery that molecules called SR proteins are particularly useful biomarkers for lupus because the majority of patients produce antibodies to them.
This discovery has spawned the development of a color-coded test to detect the presence of telltale SR proteins in the serum, the clear fluid portion of the blood. The test involves adding sera to tiny wells in a plastic plate that has been coated with human SR proteins. Antibodies in the sera that stick to the SR proteins are detected by a colored molecular tag; sera from lupus patients turns purple, while sera from non-affected individuals remains clear. This test can identify 50 percent to 70 percent of lupus patients who react positively to SR proteins.
The Hutchinson Center has filed for patent protection on this assay system and expects great commercial interest in the technology, now available for license from the Center.
"This is an exciting and novel development," says J. Lee Nelson, M.D., a clinical research investigator at the Hutchinson Center who studies the pathology of autoimmune diseases.
The technique arose from a scientific experiment more than a decade ago, when Roth and colleagues injected mice with extracts of frog nuclei. Antibodies produced by these mice led to the discovery of the SR proteins used in this new screening test.
Editor's note: For a copy of Roth's paper, please visit the Arthritis and Rheumatism Web site at http://www.arthritisrheum.org.
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The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is an independent, nonprofit research institution dedicated to the development and advancement of biomedical technology to eliminate cancer and other potentially fatal diseases. Recognized internationally for its pioneering work in bone-marrow transplantation, the Center's four scientific divisions collaborate to form a unique environment for conducting basic and applied science. The Hutchinson Center is one of 37 National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer centers nationwide, and the only one in Washington. For more information, visit the Center's Web site at www.fhcrc.org.
CONTACT: Kristen Woodward
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Aug. 7, 2000