Taking autoimmune disease personally

More than 1.2 million Australians have an autoimmune disease. But any two people may experience it very differently, even if their disease has the same name.

Carola is using genetics to fight autoimmune disease. Credit: John Curtin School of Medical Research
Carola is using genetics to fight autoimmune disease. Credit: John Curtin School of Medical Research

Unlike infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases are not passed from person to person. They are our bodies fighting themselves, making every person’s disease unique.

“A lot of clinical trials fail as they treat all patients with a certain ‘disease’ as one big group,” says Professor Carola Vinuesa, from the National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Research Excellence in Personalised Immunology at The Australian National University.

Carola and her team are using genetics to better understand the differences between patients, and to find more effective and personalised treatments based on an individual’s own genes’ involvement in their immune system.

Her work has led to the discovery of genes and cells important for immune regulation. It’s paving the way for the development of new drugs and better use of existing drugs to fight diseases such as lupus, juvenile diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

Carola’s team recently discovered that a mutation to a single gene (TREX1) in a girl with lupus was triggering her immune system into overdrive, and causing inflammation.

“We’ve now been able to recommend her for a new drug that specifically targets the cause of her disease,” says Carola, who acknowledges the Human Genome Project and gene technology advances have helped her recent success.

“I’ve been in this area for more than 15 years and over the last few it’s started to feel that we are finally discovering the real causes of autoimmune disease, and doctors are starting to be able to target treatment to the individual.”

Carola was awarded the inaugural CSL Young Florey Medal in 2014.

For more information:
John Curtin School of Medical Research
Carola G Vinuesa
+61 2 6125 4500

Banner image: Lymphocytes during immune response.
John Curtin School of Medical Research