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BIDMC Chief of Rheumatology and member of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Council George C. Tsokos (MD) receives 2015 Lupus Insight Prize

Honor recognizes investigations into lupus nephritis

BOSTON – George C. Tsokos, MD, Chief of Rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), member of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens Council and a leader in the field of lupus research, received the 2015 Lupus Insight Prize in a ceremony during FOCIS 2015, the annual meeting of the Federation of Clinical Immunology Societies, held in San Diego. The Lupus Insight Prize is a collaborative initiative among the Alliance for Lupus Research, the Lupus Foundation of America and the Lupus Research Institute.

The award recognizes a major novel insight or discovery into lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that causes widespread inflammation and tissue damage to organ systems in the body, and primarily strikes young women in their 20s and 30s. The disease affects an estimated 1.5 million individuals in the U.S. and at least 5 million worldwide.

Tsokos was honored for his investigations studying the origins of lupus nephritis, a complication of lupus that leads to kidney damage and develops in approximately two-thirds of all lupus patients.

“Lupus nephritis develops when lupus attacks the kidneys,” said Tsokos, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. “This terrible condition can lead to kidney failure, the need for ongoing dialysis treatments and even kidney transplantation.”

Tsokos’s research has focused on understanding the production of interleukin 2 (IL-2), a cytokine protein that is important for the maintenance of the immune system and is diminished in lupus patients. “We had long been searching for the mechanisms behind this decreased IL-2 production,” said Tsokos. “And in the course of our investigations we came across the enzyme calmodulin kinase 4 [CaMK4].”

His earlier studies have shown that CaMK4 plays a role in autoimmunity and inflammation in lupus. In animal studies, Tsokos discovered that CaMK4 also damages kidney cells so that they can no longer prevent proteins from leaking out of the kidneys into the urine. This leakage, known as proteinuria, is a key indicator of lupus nephritis and can lead to edema – swelling of various parts of the body from excess fluid.

The Lupus Insight Prize also recognizes Tsokos’s development of a method of targeted drug delivery to inhibit CaMK4. By packaging small molecules in nanolipid gels – small biodegradable spheres made of synthetic lipids – Tsokos and collaborators at Yale University have found they can attach antibody tags that selectively deliver drugs to inhibit CaMK4 in specific lymphocyte subsets and affected kidney cells, while sparing other cells in the body that benefit from CaMK4.

“A specific administration of a drug targeting only those cells impacted by one enzyme should relieve the symptoms of lupus nephritis while also minimizing the debilitating side effects that commonly exist in today’s therapies,” said Tsokos. Lupus nephritis is currently treated with immunosuppressive drugs that greatly increase a person’s risk of infection and with corticosteroids, which can cause serious side effects including high blood pressure.

“The Lupus Insight Prize will allow my team to advance this promising work and has the potential to significantly improve the treatment of patients with lupus nephritis,” said Tsokos.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding.

BIDMC is in the community with Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Milton, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth, Anna Jaques Hospital, Cambridge Health Alliance, Lawrence General Hospital, Signature Healthcare, Beth Israel Deaconess HealthCare, Community Care Alliance and Atrius Health. BIDMC is also clinically affiliated with the Joslin Diabetes Center and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center and is a research partner of Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center and The Jackson Laboratory. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

For more information, visit www.bidmc.org.