Issue 85, 19 November 1999
News
The disease of a thousand faces «
Shimmer project to launch in 2000 «
People in profile «
Fleming's early research is honoured «
Library changes «
New facility «
Hats off to the Civil Engineering Contractors' Association «
 
Features
A word with Chris Wise «
 
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In Brief «
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The disease of a thousand faces

Dr Tim Vyse has one main aim; to find the genes behind 'the disease of a thousand faces'.

Dr Tim Vyse
Dr Tim Vyse appeals for volunteers to help him discover the genetics behind lupus disease
The honorary rheumatology consultant and senior lecturer at ICSM division of medicine is appealing for more lupus sufferers and their families to participate in research. Between 600 and 800 more volunteers are needed.

Only by comparing the DNA from the blood of patients with lupus, also known as SLE, systemic lupus erythematosus, and family members (siblings and at least one parent), can Dr Vyse's laboratory fathom out the genetic basis of the disease.

"We are the only lab in the UK to work on this scale and I want us to find the genes," he said. "It's frustrating yet stimulating; there are days when you think you have bitten off more than you can chew, but on other days you realise you really need to do this."

A disorder of the immune system, lupus can affect people regardless of gender, age or race although three to four times more black, asian and oriental people are affected than white caucasians. The name, 'disease of a thousand faces', comes from symptoms which choose to mimic those of other conditions, increasing the difficulty of diagnosis and of finding the cause.

With lupus, the body's defences damage its own tissues instead of attacking invading bacteria or viruses and can affect the kidneys, joints, skin, mouth and eyes, as well as the lining of the lungs or heart and blood vessels. It can also be responsible for chronic fatigue, depression and other psychiatric symptoms.

Lupus affects one in 2,500 people and is more common than leukaemia, multiple sclerosis, muscular dystrophy and sickle cell anaemia.

It is a chronic condition which has a lifelong effect but most sufferers are not ill continuously. It also varies from each individual to the next in the symptoms they experience and their frequency.

Although treatments such as steroids and anti-malarial drugs can often control patients' lupus, they deal with the symptoms and not the cause. It is this aspect of research that Dr Vyse wants to address.

"If you understand what's wrong with the genes and how they make you get the lupus, you can understand the disease much better."

To tackle this, Dr Vyse and his research team aim to identify the 'lupus' genes and examine what is going wrong in the immune systems of sufferers. Such knowledge could prove invaluable in the development of new treatments as the disease would be attacked at source.

Dr Vyse began studying lupus while researching as a postdoctoral worker at the National Jewish Center for Immunology in Denver, Colorado. His department at Imperial has secured funding from the Wellcome Trust and is technically collaborating with fellow Hammersmith researchers Bernard Morley, Mark McCarthy, Tim Aitman and Marina Botto.

Diagnosis of how the disease develops is complicated by the fact that lupus is potentially caused by 20 or more genes, hence the need for more volunteers.

People taking part are asked to give a single blood sample (mostly taken at their local clinic or hospital and then posted to Hammersmith Hospital) and to fill in a short questionnaire. All the results and information obtained through the research are confidential and anonymous.

"The most important lab resource we have are the many lupus sufferers who have helped by contributing blood samples. So far, 300 families have taken time to visit their GP to give blood. Numbers are just so incredibly important.

"Sufferers and their families tend to be very informed about the disease and that's helped us a lot. We want to spread the word. The more people who know about lupus, the better it is for sufferers and researchers alike."

Families who would like to participate in the Vyse team's lupus research can contact Paul Spencer, Research Nurse, Imperial College School of Medicine, Hammersmith campus, Du Cane Road, London W12 0NN, or telephone: 020 8383 2337, fax: 020 8043 3109, e-mail: p.spencer@ic.ac.uk

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