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Researchers say they're close to finding lupus gene

baker February 19, 1997
Web posted at: 10:40 p.m. EDT

From Correspondent Dan Rutz

(CNN) -- Wanda Baker is having a good hour. That's the way it is with lupus. A patient can start the day feeling well, then feel rotten a short time later.

Baker considers herself lucky for having a doctor who knows about lupus, but many with the disease spend years explaining their distress to physicians who don't understand it.

Doctors "really need to listen and believe the patient, not automatically say 'everything is in your head'," Baker said.

Lupus is an inflammation of the body's connective tissues, brought on by an overactive immune system. Because lupus is a difficult disease to diagnose, it is not uncommon for those with it to spend years going from doctor to doctor in search of a diagnosis.

There's no cure, but now researchers with the National Institutes of Health say they're close to finding a specific gene that helps cause it.

katz

"From the studies that have been done, it seems likely that this gene might play a role in all patients with lupus arythemotosis," said Katz.

It has long been observed that lupus runs in families, and that the sibling of a person with lupus is 20 times more likely to get the disease than an unrelated person.

While the exact "lupus gene" has not been identified, the researchers say they've narrowed the search to around 500 genes, out of a total of 50,000 to 100,000 genes in the human genome.

Atlanta rheumatologist Gary Meyerson, a specialist in the disease, is optimistic about the report.

medicine

"Hopefully with this identification of a specific gene marker we'll be able to determine specific mediation and ... in the future" find a cure, Meyerson said.

Medication helps tame the symptoms, but adding to the confusion are the many faces of lupus. It can target the skin, kidneys, lungs and even the brain, adding to the false contention of some that people with lupus are mentally ill.

"When I got the diagnosis, it was finally, in a way, reassuring that I finally had a name to definitely put with my symptoms, that I wasn't going crazy, I wasn't imagining that," Baker said.

At the least, the new genetic research offers the chance of eventually sparing people the pain of being misunderstood and misdiagnosed.

 
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