Lonnie Wollmuth, professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior, was named a recipient of the 2021 Lupus Innovation Award by the Lupus Research Alliance.
Wollmuth’s project, “Diversity of anti-NMDA receptor autoantibodies in lupus patients” is among 11 projects selected, representing a wide range of areas of discovery from probing the development and progression of lupus to pointing to potential personalized therapies. Studying the disease from different vantage points can maximize the overall understanding of the disease, which can lead to more viable treatment options. The award offers up to $150,000 per year total costs for up to two years.
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder where individuals produce antibodies against their own body leading to a wide range of symptoms. Prominent symptoms include brain disorders ranging from memory loss to more severe problems such as epilepsy and psychosis. These symptoms negatively impact quality of life, and treatments are limited.
Wollmuth’s lab will develop strategies targeting the NMDA receptor, a molecule that controls communication between nerve cells to prevent or reduce brain disorders in lupus patients. NMDA receptors are involved in numerous brain functions including higher order processes like learning and memory. In some lupus patients, antibodies are produced that target the NMDA receptor, which alters the functioning of the receptor and may be linked to brain disorders.
Using mouse models, Wollmuth’s research team will first look at the damage caused by individual antibodies targeting the NMDA receptor obtained from different lupus patients, and then see if the damage can be blocked by various agents. His study will lay the foundation for personalized medicine for lupus patients experiencing brain disorders by showing how the NMDA receptor is affected, and by identifying potential therapeutic agents.
“We are proud to support fundamental lupus research through these grants in order to encourage the development of novel and/or improved therapeutic options for the lupus patient community,” said Teodora Staeva, chief scientific officer, Lupus Research Alliance.
Wollmuth received his PhD in physiology and biophysics from the University of Washington, Seattle. Before joining the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences in 1998, he was a senior fellow in the Division of Cell Physiology at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research from 1993 to 1998. He is a co-director of the Center for Nervous System Disorders at Stony Brook University and is a member of the Society for Neuroscience and the Biophysical Society.
The Lupus Innovation Award provides support for highly innovative approaches to major challenges in lupus research with a special emphasis on exploring fundamental mechanisms, novel targets for drug development, novel technologies and interdisciplinary approaches.