Dr. Virginia Pascual Wins Lupus Insight Prize

Dr. Virginia Pascual, the Drukier Director of the Gale and Ira Drukier Institute for Children’s Health at Weill Cornell Medicine, was awarded the Lupus Insight Prize on June 15 by the Lupus Research Alliance. She was acknowledged for her research into understanding the events leading to lupus flares.

Dr. Pascual received the award, which includes a $150,000 monetary prize, at FOCIS 2017, the Federation of Clinical Immunological Societies’ 17th annual meeting in Chicago. The award recognizes a significant, new insight or discovery with the potential to change the thinking about lupus and generate advances in diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

“I’m very honored to have been selected by my peers, and am committed to understanding the disease and bringing new therapies to children with lupus,” said Dr. Pascual, who was recruited as the Ronay Menschel Professor of Pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine.

Lupus is an autoimmune disease that occurs when a person’s immune system attacks healthy organs, tissues and cells. It leads to chronic inflammation in various parts of the body, including the skin, kidneys and brain. Although lupus is found mainly in women of childbearing age, an estimated 5,000-10,000 children are diagnosed with the disease in the United States.

In the past, most research by scientists on lupus has focused on what is happening to the immune system at the time of flares. While this is valuable knowledge, it has been unsuccessful in explaining why a patient with lupus might feel well one day and then have flares the next day, Dr. Pascual said.

To better understand how lupus flares develop, Dr. Pascual will analyze blood samples taken from children with lupus on a frequent basis, even in between clinical visits, using innovative sequencing technology. By doing so, she hopes to capture what is happening at the earliest stages of disease activity – weeks or even months before symptoms appear.

“If we can identify what is changing in the immune system of each patient before symptoms appear, we will be able to develop personalized treatments,” Dr. Pascual said. “The ultimate goal is to prevent a flare from happening.”

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