Understanding Lupus: In lupus, something goes wrong with the immune system, which is the part of the body that fights off viruses, bacteria, and germs. The result is the production of auto-antibodies that cause inflammation.
I used to try to understand the biology of all the issues going on with my immune system, but the more tried to learn about it, the more I realized the science was a lot more complicated than I wanted to bend my brain around. The best I could understand was that my body created antibodies that attack connective tissue cells, and the result is Lupus. However, now I know this idea is not quite correct.
Recently, I heard a presentation that clearly explained some ideas about lupus response that I had never heard before, and it helped me understand the autoimmunity of Lupus a little better.
Dr. Joan T. Merrill, the Medical Director of the Lupus Foundation of America, recently spoke to lupus patients at an educational event in Phoenix, Arizona. Dr. Merrill is also a research professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and an adjunct associate professor in the Department of Medicine at the New York University Medical Center.
Dr. Merrill encouraged changing the thinking about lupus as the body attacking itself. Instead, she proposed this very different concept, as she also discusses at the U of O web site:
“[Think about] Lupus as an imbalance of the immune system rather than the immune system as some kind of enemy to a lupus patient. It’s there to defend us, not to attack us, but somehow, in lupus, it has become overactive in its defense, leading to excessive inflammation and collateral damage to the body.
The medicines used for lupus now work to suppress the immune system. But they also have unacceptable side effects and can impair the ability of the immune system to keep a person healthy, leading to serious infections and other unwanted consequences.
Instead, we’re looking for treatments that restore the balance of the immune system, such as new “biologic” treatments that can drill down and target even the tiny, individual proteins of the immune system, restoring its proper balance.”
Dr. Merrill summarized by explaining that the same factors that go awry to cause lupus, also contribute to the survival of the human race. After hearing her, I now understand that an ever-changing and adapting immune system is essential to fighting constantly mutating viruses and germs, and this aspect of our human body’s design helps ensure the survival of the human race.
So, perhaps we can now look at our lupus as a necessary evil, since the same feature of human immune system’s design that allows lupus to develop in some people, also works in all of us to fight disease and help keep the rest of the world alive. Because of this aspect of the human immune system, some people developing auto-immunity is inevitable.
This was a very fresh perspective about lupus! We know have a plausible answer to a lupus patient’s question, “Why me?”
You can learn more about Dr. Merrill’s research programs at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Department of Medicine, Clinical Pharmacology Research Program.